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U of T students can beat stress one bead at a time

The beading workshops allow students to socialize, unwind and learn a bit about the Indigenous handicraft of beadwork (photo by Hannah James)

With papers due and exams coming, participating in a creative activity like beading can be a great stress reliever.

Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement (SAGE) is hosting its Beading Circle Workshops, offering students the chance to try the handicraft practiced in many Indigenous communities in Canada.

The goal is to select your colours, thread the needle and narrow your focus to one goal: try to learn how to make something beautiful. Taught by Sharon L. Clarke, a U of T alumnus, teacher and accomplished bead artist, the workshops are meant to give students the chance to socialize, unwind, and learn a bit about the history and practice of beadwork.

“It’s to create a sense that community, safety and trust can be built here,” says Dhanela Sivaparan, SAGE coordinator and a social justice master's student at U of T.

Beading is just one of many events offered by SAGE, a graduate student-run group that promotes academic and personal development for Indigenous graduate students through workshops, presentations, meetings and other events. Headquartered at the Centre for Indigenous Studies, SAGE also serves graduate students at U of T Scarborough and U of T Mississauga.


SAGE coordinator Dhanela Sivaparan (left) and her sister Durika Sivaparan (middle), also a grad student, are taught by Sharon L. Clarke (right) about different beading patterns (photo by Hannah James) 

On a recent day, Clarke begins instruction by offering the option to smudge with sweet grass and says she wants everyone who comes to her workshops to feel welcome and included.

Clarke – a U of T alumnus – didn’t learn how to bead until adulthood. As a dancer and singer, she has beaded her own regalia. She has her own special set of colours – turquoise, lime green, peach and red – which were given to her by an elder.

“I think her technique is nice because it’s kind of going through the step-by-step,” says Paran who has been learning how to bead with Clarke.

This beginner-level group is making colourful disc-shaped earrings with beads stitched onto canvas and felt.

Student Sheena Kitchemokman shows Clarke pictures of the beaded regalia she wears as a jingle dancer and says eventually she’d like to be able to bead those patterns herself.

Busy with midterms, she’s here to blow off some steam.

“It’s good. It’s therapeutic,” she says.

Clarke, whose beadwork has been exhibited, says there’s always more to learn, and it’s something she says she loves sharing with others.

“To me it’s like medicine,” says Clarke.

The SAGE Beading Circle Workshops happen every Wednesday, from noon-2 pm at the Turtle Lounge. Lunch is provided.