Around the kitchen table with Borealis Beading
March 05, 2023
| Author Kit Muir
So much connection happens around the kitchen table. Sharing stories, music, art and of course food brings people together in incredible ways. That’s how it feels with Borealis Beading’s Perlage: a Métis voyage. You show up without connection, even surrounded by strangers, and leave feeling welcomed, filled with stories and well-fed.
Located just 45-minutes southeast of Winnipeg in the Eastman region, on the homeland of the Métis nation, is Borealis Beading, Melanie Gamache’s beadwork studio. Upon arrival guests are greeted with locally sourced tea (either hot or cold, depending on the weather), Métis music and a beautifully set table. This is where the 5-hour Perlage experience begins.
“Perlage” translates to beadwork in English. But the experience Melanie has created is so much more than the art form of beading. When she first started her own foray into the art form years ago, she found there were few people teaching the techniques and even fewer people who were sharing the stories behind the art. So that’s where Melanie starts, with the storytelling. Storytelling is woven throughout the Perlage experience but up front Melanie shares her own story.
Melanie has put in the work to dig deeper into her roots, find scrips that were traded to her ancestors, trace family lineage and learn more about her own Métis connection. She shares all of this around the first “kitchen table” setting of the day. The open-air gazebo provides shade for the group as she shares stories of the importance of all Métis people, not only those whose family lineage traces back to Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, both Métis leaders in the 1800s, but the importance of families like hers who were gardeners, farmers and carpenters.
The Borealis Beading property is surrounded by Aspen and Oak forest. As our group walks along the property edge, Melanie points out the plants that played an important role in food, medicine and art throughout the decades.
The highbush cranberry was used in Pemmican, an important food for voyageurs during the fur trade era. The prairie or prickly wild rose can be used to make rosehip tea, a source of vitamin C. Red willow is used to weave baskets and of course the Manitoba maple is tapped for its syrupy sweetness.
The importance of these plants shows through in Métis beadwork itself. The flowers and berries from the bushes outside have made their way into the beading space of the enclosed porch. But here they are represented by colourful glass beads sewn onto leather, making the fabric come alive with twisting tendrils, five-petal flowers, berries, insects and animals. The five-petal flowers that are a common element in Métis beadwork are possibly inspired by the wild rose and certainly the reason Métis people are sometimes known as the Flower Beadwork People.
Melanie has worked at her skill since the winter of 2014 when she learned beading from a friend. The years she’s put in show through in the intricacy of her designs.
As a beading newbie, I’m grateful that Melanie has chosen a beginner project for the group to work on. The kit contains a piece of upholstery fabric, which looks somewhat like leather but is much easier to bead on, an assortment of medium beads, larger than the beads that Melanie uses in her own work, a needle, and a couple longer strips of material.
The finished project is a small memory bag. The pouch is based on a medicine bag, used and worn by some Métis and First Nations people to hold sacred items. When worn around the neck, it sits close to the wearer’s heart.
Beading was and still can be considered a form of meditative therapy. Even here, with a beginner-level project, the group of us working away with our needles and beads, fall silent and focused as Melanie shares stories and teachings on the importance of beadwork and how it’s changed over time.
Melanie says you should always bring good energy into your beading. She makes this easy in the welcoming environment that she creates that allows good energy to flow throughout the Perlage experience.
The experience ends with what else but the sharing of a meal. After a day spent hearing stories, learning about plants and histories and creating art, sharing food around the "kitchen table" where we started seems like the natural place to end. A Métis charcuterie is laid on the outdoor kitchen table with locally made bannock, bison jerky, honey, jam and cheeses. This final assembly of the group offers a chance for everyone to ask questions and reflect on today's voyage into the world of the Flower Beadwork People.
Check back to the Borealis Beading Perlage: A Métis Voyage page for the 2023 dates. Register for the experience through the Borealis Beading website.
Travel Manitoba staff was hosted by Eastman Tourism, who did not review or approve this story.
About The Author
Hi! I'm Kit, a Franco-Manitobaine from the Interlake and a champion of the phrase "there's no place like home." If you see me out exploring the province, say hi! Or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.