Excuse Me, That’s My Beadwork!

Excuse Me, That’s My Beadwork!

We've heard the story time and time again in Indian country: Stolen beadwork, stolen eagle feathers, even entire outfits stolen. Since my family just had this unfortunate experience, it must be a sign to talk about it.

In the old days, my tribes' warriors sometimes took the clothing and weapons of the enemies they killed. It was not stealing in the technical sense; it was to symbolize victory and to also inflict psychological damage on the bereaved when they recovered the bodies. My tribes' people were few and our enemies many, so the warrior way of life was necessary for our men who often gave their lives in defense of our people and our homeland.

After the reservation was allotted and our hunting lands replaced by non-native farms and businesses, my people began losing our language and traditions. It is most unfortunate that the traditions of generosity and sharing were lost. It was honorable to give to those in need for there was no social value in hoarding wealth and possessions. The chiefs in particular were obligated to provide for the poor, the orphans, and the elderly. Stealing was a serious crime because it connoted greed and deceit and neither were honorable traits. Thieves were punished by whippings and were made to repay their victims; the more serious offenders were banished.

stolen-outfitsThose of us who treasure the powwow ways know how much time, effort, and love go into the making of regalia. Many of us have spent countless hours doing this especially for our loved ones. It was heartbreaking for me to recently learn that one of my daughter's sets of beadwork that I had made appeared “for sale” on a Facebook site. She had loaned it to a friend for her daughter who wanted to dance. Sometime after that it was pawned at a local store. Thankfully my other daughter saw the posting and she was able to retrieve it.

It is indeed sad that my daughter's act of generosity turned into someone's opportunity to steal and profit. It makes us feel like we shouldn't be kind or generous to anyone and those are not the values we have been taught. I have loaned and given away many pieces of regalia to those in need to help them take part in powwows. My daughter was only doing what she had seen me do for her nearly 30 years of life. I will say many prayers for all of the people involved in this situation and hope that it will not happen again.

Thank you for letting me share this story. I feel better already. I pray that anyone who is in this situation will have the good fortune to have their belongings rightfully returned to them.

15 Comments on “Excuse Me, That’s My Beadwork!”

  • Avatar for Dee



    In 1977 I worked at a school district with the title 4 program. i was asked to take a handful of urban natives to the sacramento intertribal pow-wow. I wore a traditional buckskin that was handed down from my grandmother that had 4 generations of beadwork on it, during the late night 49’er someone “borrowed” all of the regalia that carried the spirits of my family, I was crushed and mourned the loss for years to the point that I have not danced in any circle since.
    People do not understand the honor , love, tradition and the feelings of being one with those who applied those feelings within the regalia. True to some they are just objects that can be replaced … but how do you replace history of who you are?
    To this day I often attend a pow-wow and scan the arena for my regalia….

  • Avatar for Leslie Kline Capelle

    Leslie Kline Capelle


    Since I am not Native American by birth, my loom work can only be classified as Native-American STYLE beadwork. I nevertheless have been a devoted beadwork artist since 1985 and a memorable visit to British Columbia, Canada. In law school, I loaned a hanging to a friend, because I did not have room to display it. It never was returned. On another occasion, I loaned a hanging to an office colleague, to photograph, because I was trying to start marketing my work for sale. She did not return to the office, and neither did the beadwork.

    In my own family, there have been repeated issues of family heirlooms disappearing before / after the will is read, causing heartache and anger on many sides. In the end, it is stuff. It is only stuff. There are the artifacts of our family, our culture, our heritage, which have tremendous value to us – but it remains stuff. We have to learn to spend the energy devoted to the loved ones who matter, and who can return love and positive energy, instead of wishing for inanimate objects – no matter their age or who made them – which can never return our love. Those objects possessed by true spiritual power will never be of benefit to those who have stolen them – and that must be the just reward to satisfy us.

    I know that we mourn loss, and I hope that everyone who has posted is able to recover from the loss – and move on to treasure the love and warmth of family and friends surrounding each of us.

  • Avatar for Shoshan



    I was only 3 when I first visited my great-grandparents on my mothers side; they lived very far from us. We traveled to their home on a reservation so the younger children would meet then and have a picture of them. On their living room wall was a coup headdress that had belonged to my greatgrandfathers father; his spear, and several beaded garments that I now know were regalia. All passed down to younger generations. Within 3 months Great-Grandfather passed away and only 2 days later his wife of many years followed him. He was 103 and she was 101. When the family returned from the gravesite they found the house broken into and all family artifacts gone forever. The thief knew no one would be in the house for hours; he took his time going through each piece of furniture and closet. He left nothing. This was in 1953; I imagine the thief is long dead and travels in the beyond searching for a peace he will never find.

  • Avatar for Annie



    I had a very old turquoise stone that was wrapped in silver that was given to me by a very old elder who could not speak any English, only his native tongue. His son interpreted that he felt led to to gift it to me. I have treasured that and the words for many moons. A friend came to my house and stole it from me. I did not realize it until he had left…and I searched high and low for it. When I called and asked him about it, he told me how I had cupped it in his hand and said he should have it. What a liar…I knew then that some people can’t be trusted. Hurts … but I had to release the anger I felt and he will be the one who will not travel easy in the spirit world.

  • Avatar for Neshnabe



    That is really, really sad; said that someone resorted to such a low-down act. The act of stealing, especially regalia is unbelievable, but as we have here, it happens. I could not do that knowing the power that these things have. I feel sorry for the people involved. North American Indigenous Peoples do not act, treat one another like this.

  • Avatar for trin



    I don’t know if this process would apply:
    (not part of this community)

    but I’ve seen FB pleas go out with good photos of equipment, garb, etc that went missing or was stolen from Sci fi costumers/ art shows, Historical Re-enactors, Steampunks, etc.

    Don’t know how well this works, but it gets the news out, passed around and seen by eyes that are within the same communities. (Particularly when it’s a thing that wouldn’t be much use to someone outside that particular community.)

    I do know of a smaller stolen item that was returned anonymously, apparently because the thief realized how recognizable the item now was, and that EVERYONE in the community knew about it, and would recognize it.

    and Yes, you are right, the people who will steal (worse if it’s just because the opportunity go do so was there) have something seriously wrong with them.

  • Avatar for Jones air

    Jones air


    The same thing happened to my daughter when she was in Riverside. Loaned her outfit & found out later a vender at the powwow bought it. Luckily I found the man & paid him the money he paid for our stolen outfit, it was costly, but lots of work went into this, and I was glad to get it back

    • Avatar for Donna D

      Donna D


      I’m glad you had the money to buy it back. Not everyone is so lucky. This just reminds us to be careful who we lend our things to. Something similar happened to a friend, he eventually got his regalia back as well.

  • Avatar for wendeh



    Stealing eagle feathers? Seriously? Wow, that’s a special kind of evil right there…

    • Avatar for Ruth Swaney

      Ruth Swaney


      Ten years ago I had a tail fan stolen by the man who was supposed to wrap the feathers. His story was that he and his girlfriend broke up and she sold it. I guess my only recourse is to report him to federal authorities. It’s pretty disgusting to see that person around my Rez and he acts like nothing is wrong.

  • Avatar for Karatsakashewai Slates

    I know how this feels I talked to a women who made regalia’s and she loved the one I owned and I was feeling I need a new one so I told her I would give her the one I owned in exchange that she make me a new one with colors I choose I provide all the items she asked for and then I gave her the one I owned because she claimed she need that one to match it. Know I have not dance for 8 years she took my regalia and my shaw with all the beads and never made me the regalia I asked for. lesson Learn…

    • Avatar for pateiwah



      this also happened to me. my friend had brought many of my things home with their things from a pow wow,then denied having my shawl. I had given this friend with many girls the fabric and fringe to make shawls, they decided to start a business making them. a local store owner was making a small area available to sell the shawls. the store owner also had a booth at a small pow wow out of our area. I just happened to be there and saw my shawl, the first one made as a girl.they had painted onto it. the vendor gave it to me as she knew it belonged to someone but couldn’t remember just who until I stood before her. this cost a friendship.

  • Avatar for Jerome Swan

    Jerome Swan


    I don’t have a Native American heritage, but i do have their spirit. I have walked the narrow side of the feather and now walk on the wide side,the red road. When I was a Boy Scout, I danced with the Order of The Arrow dance team. I know the time it takes to bead and sew and construct a proper Mandan or bonnet. Some one needs a good but whipping for trying to sell that beadwork.

  • Avatar for Kathryn Roman

    Kathryn Roman


    I am so glad this story was shared and I hope that those affected will not change their thinking. Giving and sharing is the idea in life and only a few do bad. Many are honorable, respected and trusted and only a few do bad things. The ones who take what is not theirs and sell it will suffer later as they know in their hearts that they are doing wrong and someday, the same will be done to them. Almost certainly.
    I am glad the work came back to the ones who made it and that they remain willing with good hearts to share it again with someone in need. Prayers up in smoke for the dishonorable ones that they might find their way back to the Red road and realize the harm they are doing to themselves and others before their life ends and they no longer have a chance to right the wrong.

    • Avatar for vision Bear

      vision Bear


      I am grateful to hear a story that touches my heart so deeply,the spirit of this family brightens my path.I resolve to give you my prayers today. May Creator keep blessing you all. With respect , Visionbear.

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