Manataka American Indian Council







Indian Craft Work

Will WalksCrow Beale



Despite the title of this piece, i am not going to give instructions on how to make a choker, breast plate, shield, knife, medicine bag, moccasins or anything else appertaining to “Indian apparel or equipment”. 

There are many good books on the market for those who wish to learn how to make anything from a bone spoon to a full sized lodge, and everything in-between.

i will share what i have learned from making regalia and equipment of our people.  First, I learned patience, one cannot rush a pair of moccasins or the carving a talking stick, a slip of the knife can ruin many hours work and leave the item unsuitable for use.  

One must wait for the wood to season before it can be used for arrows, knife handles or lances.  The leather must be soaked in water over night if it is to tighten over the wood.   And so it is with people, one should give them time to prove themselves. 

i learned not to prejudge a person, but to allow them to show me their ‘true’ face when they are ready or when they feel i can be trusted. To have patience is to be a good hunter and victorious warrior, a sudden movement could stampede the herd or alert one’s enemies to your presence.  Thus it is with life, we must learn to wait for the things we desire, in time they may arrive.  If not, start another ‘project’ for that one was not meant to be.  Events will unfold as and when they should. 

Second, i learned to become a teacher, for my son and daughter love to watch me work and like all children ask many questions.  This has taught me to think and consider every answer, for i must explain in such a way that they will understand.  And here again, patience is called for, a loud voice and an angry tone will not teach only frighten them away.  i learned to make slow deliberate movements when cutting the leather so that my children can see what i am doing and so that I do not spoil the item.  The same with my words, for the wrong word can spoil the meaning and the child. After a time one becomes experienced at the work and wastage of leather and wood is kept to a minimum, and hopefully the mistakes of the early days are not repeated.  This hard won experience we pass onto the new craftsman so as to lessen his cut and pricked fingers.  As in life, the experienced warrior, huntsman and father passes on his experience, his victories and defeats to his son and daughter, so that he and she may learn, and not suffer the same fate.

When i work, i always try to be outdoors, sitting on Mother Earth, this has taught me to appreciate the Standing People, the Winged Ones and the Creepy Crawlers and to understand what they have to say.  As i sit cutting, sewing and sanding wood, i become one with all around me.  i feel the sun and wind on my face, i hear the winged people talking and see the creepy crawlers scurrying all around me.  i spell the grass and the flowers and I feel happy and at peace.  However, the sudden barking of a dog, or a brace of wood pigeon bursting out of a tree alerts me to the fact that there is someone, either human or animal on the waste ground that runs along the back of the house i live in. 

The loud strong rustling in the leaves makes me look up to see that rain is approaching.  i have come to realize that all of nature can be our ‘guard’ and our friend. One only has to learn the language to be able to understand what is being said.  Our ancestors knew this and were able to work with the natural world, not against it as is the case with the white man.

Crafting has brought the ancestors alive for me, for i do what they did hundreds and thousands of years ago.  As i work i can imagine what it must have been like to be living back then, before the Europeans came.  i can imagine sitting outside my lodge making new arrows for the hunt, my wife singing as she cooked and my children running around playing and laughing and without fear.  We are safe for the Camp Dogs are watching for raiding parties and no man alive will get past them. The older boys are tending the horses down by the river, and the girls helping their mothers.  Grandfather Sun shines on us and soon there will be a hunt which will keep us clothed and fed for the entire winter, and we fear no man. 

This is what i have learned, the Sacred Hoop is unbroken, for what we were we still are, we are the Human Beings, we are the People and we will remain forever. As long as the skills and the stories continue we will continue, never forget and never let your children forget who and what we are. Talk with them, play with them and tell them the stories your parents told you…maintain the link.

Lastly, i have learned to know my Creator in a more personal way.  When i  work on a Medicine Item, i cleanse the materials, the tools, the are and myself with sage smoke.  i offer a prayer and tobacco and ask that the Creator and the Spirits will work with and through me so that i might work in a right and proper manner. 

As i work i face east and explain to the leather, wood, beads etc what i am doing, why i am doing it, i also tell them about the person “they” are meant to help.  For i know that everything has a Spirit and is worthy of respect and consideration. i have come to learn that everything i do or say, no matter how simple, is a prayer to the Creator.  The Creator is with me every moment and i feel this the most when i am making a choker, a Medicine Bag or a Knife Sheath.  When you are quiet, when you are at peace, and one with your surroundings, then you are truly one with the Creator. 

Ohiyesa wrote; "If you ask him [the Indian] 'What is silence?'” he will answer: “It is the Great Mystery!” “The holy silence is His voice!” If you ask: “What are the fruits of silence?” he will say: “They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.

Note: You will have noticed that i always use the lower case I when referring to myself, this is no accident.  My wise Seneca Clan Mother taught me that the use of I in a document is to show excessive ego, as if to say ‘I AM IMPORTANT’.  Whereas ‘i’  shows that one recognizes ones place in the universe…i like that!