British Columbia

Beaded poppies are a source of pride, resilience for this Indigenous designer

Dene and Carrier designer Crystal Behn creates poppies with beads, porcupine quills and moose hide for people to wear on Indigenous Veterans Day on Nov. 8, as well as Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.

Crystal Behn says it usually takes 7-8 hours of sewing beads and quills onto moose hide to make each poppy

Some of Crystal Behn's beaded poppies. (Submitted by Crystal Behn)

For Crystal Behn, the beaded poppy is a source of pride and resilience.

The Dene and Carrier designer has been making and selling the poppies for Remembrance Day for several years, but said she wasn't aware of Indigenous Veterans Day until only a month ago.

On Nov. 8, Behn and many of her customers will wear the handmade poppies — with beads and porcupine quills sewn onto smoked moose hide — to commemorate Indigenous members of the military who served in the two world wars and the Korean War.

Behn, who is based in Prince George, B.C., says it usually takes her seven to eight hours to make each poppy and sometimes it's challenging to make sure the colours of different materials match. 

She says she enjoys the creative process.

"There's a certain pride that goes into each poppy," she told host Carolina de Ryk on CBC's Daybreak North. "Beading is therapeutic to me."

Behn says creating beaded poppies is an important way to keep Indigenous heritage alive. (Submitted by Crystal Behn)

She says it's also a way to keep Indigenous heritage alive.

"It's important for me because for many years, Indigenous people weren't allowed to practise a lot of their culture and traditions, so it's important [that] everyone's welcome [to do so]," she said.

"We're in a time where everyone needs to come together. Everyone needs to support each other."

Behn says partial proceeds from her poppies will go to veterans' organizations.

Nisga'a member Monica Kind says she has been Behn's customer for two years and has bought the poppies for herself and her daughter, who has served in the Canadian Army for two decades.

But she also bought the poppies because they represent the challenges both Indigenous people and veterans have faced.

"It was made by an Indigenous woman who has also overcome many, many barriers," said Kind, who lives in in Fort Nelson, B.C. "It represents a famous image of veterans who have also overcome barriers in their life."

Some of the Indigenous poppies created by Behn are sewn with porcupine quills. (Submitted by Crystal Behn)

Nurse Anouk Villemaire — who has been buying and wearing Behn's artworks since 2017 — says donning a beaded poppy during the month of Remembrance Day and Indigenous Veterans Day is an important way to recognize the contributions made by her Indigenous friends' veteran relatives.

"These people have often been and continue to be marginalized by Canadian society, by [the] Canadian government, and yet they still have made such a profound sacrifice," Villemaire said. 

She also notes that the beaded poppy is much more durable that the conventional plastic poppy.

Villemaire says she hopes that by wearing beaded poppy, she can help spark more conversations about reconciliation.

LISTEN | Crystal Behn shares her joy of making Indigenous beaded poppies:

Crystal Behn is a Dene and Carrier artist in Prince George who is using a traditional art form to mark Indigenous Veteran's Day and Remembrance Day. 6:13

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Journalist, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto is a digital journalist based in the unceded territories of the Syilx, also known as Kelowna, British Columbia. Send him tips via email at winston.szeto@cbc.ca.

With files from Daybreak North

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