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Aboriginal Youth Identity Series: Health and WellnessElementarySeniors Health and Wellness
Health and Wellness
Health and Wellness

Lesson Plan 1: Beadwork as Recreation

Teacher Information:

Aboriginal People across Canada have distinct cultural traits displayed through a variety of arts and games. Arts and crafts are a popular form of recreation coupled with necessity. For example, moccasins were a necessity to cover bare feet; however, they were sometimes elaborately adorned. This is also a practice that is found on bags, pouches, and clothing. West Coast Aboriginal people took great pride in intricately carving totem poles. Other Aboriginal people on the prairies are able to weave baskets in any size or shape out of a variety of materials.

Provide students with pictures (you may use the Student Zone Photo Gallery) or collect actual artifacts (perhaps borrowed from people in the community, or contact a local museum) that show how art is different in the four different regions of Canada. Students will find it interesting to learn why West Coast Aboriginal People carve totem poles (to preserve history and tell stories of Aboriginal families and clans) and Siksika (Blackfoot) people on the western prairies enjoy doing beadwork. Initiate a discussion that allows students to share their opinions on the different kinds of art, what they like, what they find interesting.

The people of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Confederacy are Plains Aboriginals whose vast territory extended eastward from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the valley of the Mississippi River. From central Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba the Plains stretch south almost to the Gulf of Mexico. The Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation consists of three groups-the Kainai (Bloods), Piikani (Piegan) and Siksika (Blackfoot) that are members of the Algonquian language family. The Siksika (Blackfoot) refer to themselves as either 'Nitsi-tapi' meaning 'Real People' or 'Soyi-tapi' meaning “Prairie People” in their own language. There are many stories as to the origin of the Siksika (Blackfoot) people. One story tells of how the Siksika (Blackfoot) split into three groups to protect their territory from enemies. One group went north to protect their land from the Cree; another went to the southwest to fight and the last group when to the southeast to fight the Crow, Assiniboine, and Sioux.

In this lesson, students will practice beadwork, a traditional pastime of Siksika (Blackfoot) women. The Siksika liked to produce colourful geometric designs using beads. Quillwork influenced beadwork, and embroidering after beads were introduced during the fur trade era. During the early days, Porcupine quills were chosen with preference given to the quills from the back and sides of the porcupine. They were coloured red, green, or blue by using plant dyes. Quills were most commonly applied to men's shirts, leggings and buffalo robes in a series of narrow parallel bands. Beads were applied to garments using the same geometric patterns that were used with quill design. Initially, embroidery beads were much larger than those used today and were much more expensive so they were used sparingly. Traders supplied beads in six different colours: light blue, dark blue, dark red, deep yellow, white, and black. Siksika (Blackfoot) (Siksika (Blackfoot)) people preferred the blue and white beads, the women commonly alternating bands of blue and white beads when they decorated their own dresses. Men also wore beaded cuffs as a part of their ceremonial clothing.

The purpose of this exercise is for students to appreciate Aboriginal beadwork as a form of recreation to adorn clothing and accessories. People created using beads because it was enjoyable and had an important social and cultural aspect. This lesson also allows students to learn about Siksika (Blackfoot) (Siksika (Blackfoot)) culture.


     Students will:

  • Develop appreciation for a traditional pastime of the Siksika (Blackfoot) people
  • Create their own beaded art work following a template
  • Analyze different beadwork patterns and select one that appeals to them
  • Understand how beadwork was an important recreational activity to the Siksika (Blackfoot) people

Main Lesson:

Students to recreate Aboriginal art based on their own interpretation and skills. Show students some examples of Siksika (Blackfoot) beadwork designs from the Quill and Bead Design examples found in the Student Zone. The Photo Gallery section includes historical photographs of Siksika (Blackfoot) beadwork on pipe bags, moccasins, clothing, and other items. Allowing the students to peruse these photographs will help them appreciate the intricacy and talent required to create some of these designs.

Provide students with beads in the same six colours that were traditionally used by Siksika (Blackfoot) women. Students will use the beads to create a geometric design. Students should work individually to create a product that follows the following guidelines (as to maintain Siksika (Blackfoot) tradition). You can print off the Quill and Bead Design template for students to follow.

  • Must have more than three lines of squares
  • Must be constructed around a middle line, which contains an odd number of coloured squares
  • Must use more than one colour
When the students are finished, put their artwork on display.

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