Four Generations of Beadwork and Beyond
March 30, 2021

Four Generations of Beadwork and Beyond

What inspires me is the idea that being Indigenous is Beautiful. My mission and values as a creator are to celebrate our way of life, our language, songs, dances, ceremonies, our storytelling, and our cooking. We can turn anything into something beautiful. And we have a sense of humor!

Rebekah Jarvey (Chippewa Cree, Blackfeet) is a fourth-generation sewing and beadwork artist from Havre, Montana. Her modern twist on Indigenous fashion uses thread stitch and various beadwork styles such as beaded ropes and beaded medallions.

Her specialty masks are hand-sewn cloth with added beadwork. The type of cloth can vary, from vintage leather to velvet. She uses a unique blend of ribbon work and appliqué to create ribbon skirts that can be worn in both traditional and public settings. In 2017, she coordinated the first ever fashion show for her tribe’s Native American Week celebration. In 2018, her designs were featured in the Stand Tall, Walk Proud Fashion Show at Wild Horse Casino in Dulce, New Mexico. Rebekah has also modeled for two different Indigenous fashion designers from Montana: Della Big Hair Stump and Bellinda Bullshoe. Rebekah is a 2021 First Peoples Fund (FPF) Artist in Business Leadership fellow and was recently featured on Tribal Business News as one of the Native artists driving innovation in Indian Country. 

Before Rebekah Jarvey starts any project, she smudges her studio and her sewing machines to get into the mindset to create. She then lays out the cloth ribbons and decides which colors she will use, opting for bold, bright, and neon colors. Rebekah sees her process as weaving in the joy, positivity, and rebelliousness that she associates with being Indigenous.

Being entrepreneurial runs in Rebekah’s family. Her parents had a small shop called Past Time, located in the heart of their reservation. Her mom and aunt ran that store for 17 years and it is where she first learned all the ins and outs of a small business. Rebekah understands first hand the challenges that Indigenous people have faced setting up and maintaining their own small businesses, and she learned a lot from her mother and aunt. She remembers that they had to build their credit and have the support of a bank. It was a time when the working woman was becoming stronger. 

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A. Photo of Rebekah Jarvey B. Photo of Rebeca Jarvey. C Photo of Ribbon Skirt outfit

“Things weren’t easy for Native women in the ‘80s and ‘90s and that little shop supported the whole family,” Rebekah says. “Now that I’m an entrepreneur and I have my own small business, I understand much better what they went through. This gives me fuel and motivation.”

When she was younger, Rebekah attended her local tribal school, which offered a few business classes. She took all of them, enrolled in additional business classes independently, and began attending conferences on her journey to learn as much as she could as a young entrepreneur. 

She then attended college and became a first generation college graduate on both  sides of the family. During that time, she started using her skills in sewing and beadwork to make a living, which has led to her successful journey as an artist and creator. Rebekah has a 15-year-old son and she’s been teaching him the traditional arts since he was the age of five.

“I’m proud to say that I’m a fourth-generation beader. My great grandma taught my grandma, my grandma taught my mom, and she taught me. Now, my son is carrying forward the traditional way,” Rebekah says. 

Rebekah modernizes tradition with her signature bright and neon colors to reach the younger generations and help young people remain connected to their culture.

“My family has two sets of family colors. We always had to use the family colors in our beadwork and our dancing outfits. I used them for a long time. Now that I’m older, I use bright, bold colors and neon in my work out of rebelliousness to my mother!” Rebekah says. “I incorporated my own style to the traditional practices that my grandmother and mother taught me. I use my cultural history as a foundation, and I take it a step further. I’m making it modern by using bright and neon colors that attract the attention of young people. My hope is that it inspires the new generations to learn our traditions.”

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A. Photo of Ribbon Skirt outfit. B. Photo of Ribbon Skirt outfit C. "Night and Day" mask by Rebekah Jarvey

This past year has been hard for many creatives. And Rebekah is no exception, this pandemic has been an emotional time for her. As an artist, she has used her energy to continue creating bright and bold apparel items that reflect our time. Wearing many hats, she balances being a creative entrepreneur and designer, her job with the Chippewa Cree Tribe, and being a mom. That is never an easy feat, but a signature of the many roles that Indigenous women have in their lives. And Rebeka’s resilience during this pandemic has proven strong. 

“My brand Rebekah Jarvey is my side hustle. As for my day job, I work for my tribe as the Human Resources Generalist,” Rebeka says. “I focus on making sure employees are supported during the pandemic, helping them feel good about returning to in-person work, making sure people feel safe. It's been a year now of us being told to stay at home and stay away from the people we love. That is very hard for Indigenous people because for us family is central to everything. It was a very big culture shock. That was hard emotionally for me.”

Rebekah took this past year to create new work with new meaning. And she made a big statement with her “Night and Day” mask, which she designed and created using Louis Vuitton purses from thrift stores.

“The ‘night’ represents last year. In the evenings, my mind was running through the uncertainties, the unknowns. I knew in my heart that our lives were forever changed,” Rebekah says. “Then, I'd wake up, ground myself into my traditional roots. When you wake up, you smile, you're thankful that you're still here, you're thankful for another day. That represents the ‘day’ on my mask. I focused on making this during the pandemic and now, a year later, I reflect on the journey. I think about where I started and where I am at right now.”

During this time of physical distancing, Rebekah says she’s one of many Indigenous people connected on Facebook through a group called the Social Distance Powwow. A quarter of a million people are part of this group now and Rebekah was nominated as Artist of the Year by its members. Rebekah continues to make waves across media platforms. She was featured on Indian Business Today as one of the “Indigenous Artists driving innovation” and was  recently interviewed by Indian Country Today.

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