Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center offers cultural and art classes several times a month as a service to the greater surrounding Indigenous community. Participants typically learn how to bead a piece of jewelry or create a piece of regalia led by Cultural Activities Coordinator and artist Leslie Deer.
“So today we are making hairpipe bandoliers. … A bandolier is typically worn by men as part of their regalia in the arena. And these bandoliers we’re making are two strands that go probably from one side — either your left side or your right side — across your chest, over your shoulder, down your backside and meets up again where it started on your side, at your hip,” she said.
Participant and Choctaw Nation citizen Chrischelle Baker enjoys Native crafts and making new friends. She keeps up with the Heritage Center’s classes online and always looks forward to a new challenge, including the bandolier.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what it was to tell you the truth,” Baker said. “And so I’m like, ‘I want to learn something new.’ And so here I am, I got in the class.”
Ponca and Muscogee Creek tribal member Jill Primeaux Hunter plans to give her bandolier to a new dancer as part of his first set of regalia. She chose red and yellow beads to represent and honor the element of fire. Hunter knew the significance of bandoliers before the class.
“These represent the bullet casings that they used for veterans. And so originally it was just veterans that used these to dance with. But now almost all the dancers use them, whether they are (veterans or) not. It just kind of has evolved into that. But that’s what I was told by my dad was that they were for veterans and that’s what that represented as part of the warrior wear. They used them for straight dancers, mostly,” she said.
CPN Tribal member Charles Scott also attended, sitting next to CPN District 12 Legislator Paul Schimdlkofer. Scott began taking classes a few years ago as an opportunity to make regalia pieces at no cost. While he gives away many of his completed pieces as well, he wants to keep his first bandolier. Scott picked red and purple to go with his ribbon shirt for the dance arena.
“If you go to the store and buy it, it’s really not special to me,” he said. “If you make it, then it’s special. I’ve met people down here who’ve made me stuff. My ribbon shirt, for example, that was made for me. So the more you come down and the more we do this culture stuff, the more other people come down and use it.”
The process of beading and crafting includes making mistakes, and Schimdlkofer is no stranger to taking apart and redoing sections of his work.
“I got the colors mixed up and left the silver ones out three times. So that’s not bad for an old guy that doesn’t know what he’s doing, you know? Personally, I don’t think it is. I was pretty sure I was going to make mistakes anyways,” he said.
Schmidlkofer has taken almost every class available at the CHC since he retired after making a promise to himself to learn more about Potawatomi culture and language. Even when he messes up, he has fun.
“Leslie does a great job of explaining how to do things and (is) very patient, and on several occasions she’s helped me undo my bad work and correct it and end up with a quality product at the end. So I love the classes. A lot of fun. The fellowship is good,” Schmidlkofer said.
He focused on a green and yellow palette, making his bandolier match the rest of his regalia. However, his classmates know Schmidlkofer usually brings his own beads or other adornments to add something special.
“I was gifted some orange things two or three years ago. So I’ve started blending orange into my stuff, too. So my bandolier is, primarily the colors are green and yellow. But I had some nice orange accent beads that I had bought at a thrift store. They were just in a bag, and I’m going to put one of those in each one of these rows to kind of give me an accent color of my orange to help tie it into my regalia also,” he said.
Deer and the other participants feel like those extra flares make the pieces individual and unique. She often picks simple projects that require only a few hours to complete so participants walk away with new skills and a beautiful creation.
“We’ve all been there where you’ve taken a class, and you don’t quite finish, and you pack it all up and take it home and go, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to finish this,’ and then it sits on the shelf, and you never really do finish it,” Deer said. “I’ve done that before in my life, so I don’t ever like to see that happen because everyone’s always excited to walk out with a finished product, whether you wear it, whether you have it to take as a gift for somebody, or you just want to go home and show it off and say, ‘Look what I did.’”
When it comes to beading and crafts, Baker has mostly taught herself. She takes classes like those at the CHC and attends beading groups in her community. She makes jewelry for her daughters and teaches them how to bead as well. Baker believes the importance of art shows itself every day.
“Because it’s part of our heritage, and we need to keep it. Nobody else is going to teach us. So we have to teach each other. What you learn, you share with those that want to learn, and especially the younger generation,” she said.
As a teacher and artist, Deer agrees. She notes spending time together and passing on the skills holds as much importance as the finished product. One person’s accomplishments sometimes inspires the whole class, and many of her students surpass their own expectations.
“They’ll look at it at the end and say, ‘I can’t believe I made this. I can’t believe I did this. I’m so proud of it. I’m going to go show my mom or my sister or my dad or whatever.’ They really are surprised at what they can do, and they’re surprised that it’s right here in their community for free,” Deer said.
She encourages everyone to tap into their inner-artist, harness their creativity and attend at least one class.
“Arts are important because it’s who we are. It’s part of our culture. It’s a way of communicating. It’s a way of marking time. It’s a way of remembrance. It’s a way of celebration. It’s a way of looking to the future. So without art, it’s almost like there is no culture,” Deer said.
The classes offer many basic skills that apply to larger or more complex pieces for the future. They are free and open to everyone, and the CHC provides most of the materials. Registration is required, and class sizes are limited. Find a calendar of classes and sign up at cpn.news/events.