kiskinohawmatok — A Beadwork Thesis and Treaty Context at the U of A

Tara Kappo’s research for her master’s thesis is not where you’d expect to find it; nor does it resemble typical research. There are no…

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Tara Kappo’s research for her master’s thesis is not where you’d expect to find it; nor does it resemble typical research. There are no typed pages or stacks of notes. Instead, a significant portion of her research sits within a simple wood frame, soft velvet and intricate beading, containing and conveying Tara’s research on how Indigenous ways of teaching and learning have a place in our education systems.

When chatting with artist and graduate student Tara Kappo, I am struck by two things: her passion for beadwork and her excitement about her art being installed and knowledge being shared in the office of the president and provost.

When she was an undergrad at the U of A, Tara says, she never would have imagined this, but now she is proud to see her work — a representation not only of Cree learning being passed down through beadwork, but also of the space now available for Indigenous peoples at all levels at the University of Alberta — represented in a place of university governance and leadership.

Beadwork has been used for eons to record the stories, teachings, history, and governance agreements of First Peoples. In fact, the very first treaties of what is now known as North America were recorded in beadwork belts. These friendship treaties were made with an understanding of mutual respect and non-interference, which guaranteed that Indigenous Peoples would be able to continue their ways of life on their traditional lands, and also established the terms by which newcomers could settle and make peaceful trade arrangements. The first of these treaties is Gusweñta, a two-row wampum belt that recorded an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch. All treaties thereafter were also developed and agreed-upon in the same light as this first treaty.

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By creating this piece of art for office of the president and provost, Tara says she is showing her responsibility as a treaty person who seeks relationships that are positive and mutually beneficial. The work is a reflection of what she envisions as the type of place the University of Alberta can be — a space where different knowledges and gifts are respected and shared, a space of miyo wîcêhtowin (good relationships) that, in turn, help create miyo pimâtisiwin (a good life) for us all.

Tara chose to surround the University of Alberta crest with a braid of sweetgrass, embellished with other symbols of healing and ceremony, to represent the interconnected relationships that have grown at the U of A and how this has created a foundation to move forward together in allyship as treaty people.

The name of Tara’s beadwork is kiskinohawmatok. The title expresses that different peoples, their histories and stories come together and create spaces where everyone can flourish, learn from one another, and foster the spirit of mutual respect on which treaty relationships were founded. Tara feels that kiskinohawmatok is representative of the foundation we have established here at the U of A for good relations and allyship.

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About Tara Kappo

Tara is Woodland Cree from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, in Treaty 8 Territory. She will sometimes use the name she was gifted by her Elders, which she uses as her signature on many of her beadworks, including this particular piece. This name does not have a direct translation in English and she prefers to display the name in Cree syllabics. She began beading at the age of 11 and learned primarily through watching her grandmother bead. Tara holds a BA (Native Studies) from the U of A, and is currently completing her master’s, with the working title for her thesis of mîkisistahikêwin (which translates as: doing beadwork) in the Faculty of Native Studies.

Written by Erin Prefontaine