Date of this Version
Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
A relatively new type of raised beadwork has “become a way of life” for the Oneida people of Wisconsin. “Beading extravaganzas” are important social events, and beadwork adorns ritual objects such as graduation stoles. This examination of contemporary Oneida beadwork functions as an intriguing update to Ruth Phillip’s 1990 TSA paper, “Moccasins into Slippers: Traditions and Transformations in Nineteenth-Century Woodlands Indian Textiles.” Phillips documented how indigenous forms “morphed” into objects made for sale to non-natives at sites such as Niagara Falls. While even tourist art was part of native cultural identity, its greatest significance was as a source of income in a changing cultural landscape.
The Oneida was one of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee, Six Nations) of New York and southern Ontario, but they were forced out of their land and relocated to Wisconsin in the early 1800s. Separated from their homeland and broader cultural context for nearly two centuries, the Oneida yearned to be connected to their heritage. They did not participate in the eastern tourist trade, and while many did a kind of flat beadwork, they never developed the kind of fanciful raised techniques that flourished among other Iroquois. This changed in the 1990s when individuals from the East came to teach at Oneida. Their approach was wholeheartedly embraced in Wisconsin—as an art, a form of personal expression, and even a missing part of Haudenosaunee identity. Soon individuals claimed they felt “most Oneida when doing raised beadwork.” While this is in one sense a new, imported, or “invented tradition” in Wisconsin, it is deeply felt as something that brought the community “back” to its roots. Unlike many nineteenth-century souvenirs, twenty-first-century Oneida beadwork items are elaborate and technically complex. I will trace the trajectory of the tradition and profile individual beadworkers including Karen Ann Hoffman.