Picking up an authentic piece of indigenous art

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In our big box retail store world, when you find something that is unique and handmade sometimes it feels like you found a four-leaf clover. Well the luck of the Indigenous be with you as you browse through the items available through craft vendors set up at this years ‘Grand River Champion of Champions Pow Wow’. 

Quality control is something the pow wow committee takes pretty seriously. All vendors must submit an application to acquire a space. The committee confirms the vendors are indigenous people and that all items available are certain to be authentic, only then are they given the okay to set up shop. With over 100 different vendors at this year’s pow wow, you will definitely have a lot to see. And there is a ton of quality supplies and finished items to be found. From fashion designers to potters, beadwork artists to drum makers – there is certainly bound to be something special to catch your eye.

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Selling beadwork and other handmade crafts is a long tradition among the Haudenosaunee. In the 1840’s it was all the rage to go on vacation in Niagara Falls. A number of “curiosity shops”opened throughout the Falls where a person could purchase what they called “Indian fancy beadwork”. Haudenosaunee women from Seneca, Tuscarora and Six Nations all had regular venues where they would set out blankets along the parks and walkways. There, visitors could purchase authentic Iroquois hand beaded purses that were all the rage in Victorian times as a sort of status symbol to show off that one had afforded a Niagara Falls vacation. You can still see these small handbags on the arms of rich young women and children in early photographs of the time.

“It is truly an art form.” said one of last year’s visitors speaking about the craft vendors. “There’s so many talented artisans. It’s inspiring. I ended up getting a few pieces that I’m going to save for Christmas gifts.”

All purchases made at the pow wow are tax free. Most of the vendors are cash only however some of the larger vendors will have debit and credit card machines available.

About The Author

Nahnda Garlow, Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations, is our Arts & Culture editor. Her popular column, Scone Dogs and Seed Beads brings weekly thoughts on current day indigenous identity. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado.

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