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Trailblazing Beads owner sees beading as form of healing

Eva Dabutch, a registered social worker who specializes in mental health, hopes her “side hustle” can create a community-wide circle of beads to help heal intergenerational trauma in tribal peoples

Beadwork has always been a constant in Eva Dabutch’s life.

Raised as a child in Mississauga First Nation, a small Anishnaabe community just outside of Blind River, Ontario, Dabutch took her love of the art form and opened her own beading and craft supply store in Sault Ste. Marie – Trailblazing Beads – Both as a side hustle and a personal mission to bring about positive change within Indigenous peoples by promoting traditional beading and crafts as a healing tool.

“My mom had a closet full of large containers of beads and she would just let us go in and make beadwork. I would spill them all over and mix up their containers, I would cut big holes in their leather,” Dabutch recalled, laughing. “She was never really mad at us. She just encouraged this craft.”

Trailblazing Beads has been in business since it opened on Gore Street in 2016. Knowing the location was temporary, Dabutch would eventually move her store to a larger store on March Street in October 2020.

This move, says Dabutch, has given her the opportunity to expand her business by adding different types of fabrics with Indigenous prints, ribbons and various craft supplies used to create Indigenous art and powwow regalia.

“That’s a big part of my mission, having the supplies available so people can participate in their culture, and that includes attending pow wows, and you need supplies and stuff and ideas (a term used in the The beadwork community uses materials such as thread, pins, needles, etc.) to craft your insignia,” she said.

Dabutch says since the expansion there has been a lot of demand for the various fabrics with indigenous prints.

“I just kept collecting and buying more and the community was really excited to have a good variety of fabrics to choose from,” she said.

The move to March Street also allowed Trailblazing Beads to offer more space for local Indigenous artists to sell their beadwork and other creations on consignment, which is also a nod to Dabutch’s own upbringing; Her mother, Bernadine, started a beading business called Trailblazing Woman with some of her friends in the Mississauga First Nation when Dabutch was a child.

“I think that’s really important to me because growing up, my mother earned extra income for our family. She would put her stuff on consignment at the Serpent River Trading Post, so we went there once a month — she sold a lot of beadwork and earrings, so I always grew up making money for our family that way,” Dabutch recalled. “We went to powwows, she set up a booth and sold her artwork — and that was part of our family support.”

Dabutch, a registered social worker who specializes in mental health, says beadwork fits very well with the recommendations of mental health experts over the years to address and heal trauma — in the case of Indigenous peoples, trauma sustained by generation passed on from generation to generation due to colonialism and the enduring effects of the boarding school system.

The Anishinaabe/Lakota entrepreneur believes beads can help people living with trauma to be more mindful, grounded, and present overall.

“You manage these trauma symptoms with addiction and medication, but there’s a more holistic way to deal with the trauma — and it’s through our traditional practices,” Dabutch said. “Beadwork is really grounding; You concentrate, it repeats itself. Pearls activate the right side of the brain, which is responsible for creativity and emotions.”

Dabutch says many of her clients also use beads and crafts as a form of recidivism prevention.

“The teaching is that the spirit isn’t in your body and it takes a little while for it to come back once you stop using it – so people don’t want to use that because as you put a piece of yourself into them.” Beadwork tucks are beads,” she said. “You want good energies in beadwork because people can use this beadwork in ceremonies when they are doing pow wows. So you don’t want anything [negative] attached to this beadwork.”

Trailblazing Beads will be hosting a series of beading classes throughout the New Year, beginning with miniature headdress making classes in January and red dress pins in February.

Dabutch says she’s doing this in hopes of eventually making a string of pearls in Sault Ste. Marie.

“A lot of our clients ask about pearl courses,” Dabutch said. “I will be facilitating some, but I’m hoping to bring in other artists who specialize in other beading techniques or beading styles.”

Trailblazing Beads has also launched a new website that allows customers to shop for bead accessories and bead kits online. The new website also features a beadwork tutorials page, complete with PDF instructions and how-to videos showing customers how to create their own beadwork projects using the store’s premade beadwork kits.

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