Arts·Video

'This is more beautiful than I could have imagined': Buffy Sainte-Marie reacts to a hand-beaded gift

Bead artist Jori Waskahat says the iconic singer was a staple of his childhood. He made her a handmade bag based on her signature guitar strap, which was lost in a fire.

Bead artist Jori Waskahat says the iconic singer was a staple of his childhood

Jori Waskahat is a Cree beadworker, originally from Treaty Six territory and currently based in Toronto. For Waskahat, beading is an important link to his culture — but it's also a storytelling medium. He's creating a series of pieces celebrating prominent Indigenous artists and moments in Indigenous history and posting them on social media, showing how he made the pieces and telling the story around them.

Recently, he made a video for CBC Creator Network showing how he made a bag based on a guitar strap used by Buffy Sainte-Marie, an artist he describes as a "staple" of his childhood. Then, the bag was mailed to Sainte-Marie herself, who was kind enough to record an unboxing video.

The original strap, Sainte-Marie explains in the video, was lost in fire at her road manager's house. 

Sainte-Marie, who literally gasps as she opens it, describes the bag as "equal to, or maybe even more spectacular, than my original guitar strap."

Buffy Sainte-Marie is pictured with the guitar strap Jori Waskahat recreated. (Ottawa Jazz Festival)

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I'm a two-spirit artist from Treaty Six. I have two homes, actually: I'm from Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta, but I also grew up in a small first nation called Ministikwan.

How did you get into beading?

It happened over the pandemic. I wasn't in a very good place. I was kind of struggling with some issues, and beading helped me through that. It was a way for me to maintain sanity.

Is there anyone in your life specifically that helped get you into it?

My mom is a fantastic beader. She started beading a few years before I had because she wanted to make regalia for my nephew. I actually got into it because I want to make my own regalia and I wanted to dance powwow.

So I started by just creating little pieces and eventually working up to my own regalia. I asked my mom for help creating a powwow outfit and we just kind of went from there.

So, the bag is based on a guitar strap Buffy used to have?

Buffy was a staple in my household, so I grew up on Buffy. While I was researching what to recreate for her, she had this gorgeous guitar strap that she was carrying in her performances all the time, and it was also the border of her album Up Where We Belong, which she won an Oscar for. She was the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, so I wanted to highlight that.

Cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's album Up Where We Belong. Buffy smiles at the centre of colourful beadwork borders.
Buffy Sainte-Marie's 1996 album Up Where We Belong. (Island Records)

What was the most challenging part of making this?

Just learning how to do the bag. It was my first go at it. Just sort of knowing how all the pieces individually work together, It was learning on the go. 

Do you have anything else you want to say, maybe about beading more generally?

Beading has been a part of our culture for hundreds of years. What I like now is that there's sort of like, a resurgence of bead workers and artists.

It's making its way into higher fashion, which is sort of where I want to live. I recently just had a piece in New York Fashion Week.  

Congratulations!

Thank you. So that's been exciting. And I'm really happy that that's where the road is going. And doing that but also using it as a storytelling device — that's something I really like about it as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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