Reflections by Beadwork Artist, Speplól Tanya Zilinski
Written by Speplól Tanya Zilinski, whose art is featured on the cover of the 30th anniversary edition of My Name Is Seepeetza
My journey in beadwork began in 1992, when I was fifteen years old. I was in foster care and was reconnecting to my culture with the help of my foster mother and an Ojibway person, who I just recently found out through ancestry DNA testing is my cousin. He came every day to the group home where I lived to teach and pass on cultural knowledge. The alternate school I attended was also introducing Indigenous education and teachings at the time, which is where I was taught to bead by the late Mary Sandoval, an Elder from Chawathil First Nation. She taught all the students to create designs on graph paper, then to warp the loom, thread the needle and transfer our designs from the paper onto the loom. This experience was amazing to me and was one of the pivotal moments in my life. Connecting to my culture has brought me to where I am today.
Over the years, I had little time to pursue my love of loom beadwork, while raising six children and working full-time to keep food on the table. After the loss of my mom in 2016, I took a leap of faith and went back to school to graduate and earn a Special Education Assistant Certification. In 2018, I gained employment with the Fraser-Cascade School District as Indigenous student support at Coquihalla Elementary School. This was truly another blessing as I was able to connect even further to my culture, and was given the honour of teaching the culture to young students.
It was during that time I began to learn Halq’eméylem language. I attended university to learn Halq’eméylem and have since earned my Advanced Proficiency Certification in Halq’eméylem, which has led to my becoming a certified teacher of the language and culture.
During the time of learning Halq’eméylem, I decided to revisit my love of beadwork. I very quickly fell in love again and started to bead smaller projects. With the loss of my dad in 2019, I began to think of my Ancestors, and I wanted to leave something tangible for my descendants that would give them a sense of pride in our cultures. In June 2020, I felt like I wanted to challenge myself and make something the size of a Coast Salish weaving to leave as a family heirloom. I loved how Coast Salish weavings tell stories and pass down teachings through patterns. Having been both taught and given permission to Coast Salish weave, I wanted to pass down some of stories and teachings to my children, who are Stó:lō and Nlaka’pamux through their dad, and Anishinaabe through myself. I wanted to blend the cultures together in my work so they will have teachings from both.
Through experimentation, I developed my own methods and techniques for creating large loom beaded tapestries. After having completed the first tapestry, “Visions From Our Ancestors,” I knew I wanted to continue. Creating loom beaded tapestries is my direct connection to the Ancestors, the Creator and Halq’eméylem. Even though I am not Stó:lō and I am not connected to Halq’eméylem through direct lineage, I feel a deep connection to Halq’eméylem and the land as I was born here on S’ólh Téméxw, have lived in the same place my entire life and have, for the last thirty years and beyond, been married into Stó:lō culture. It was also one of the Elders’ dreams that one day, everyone living on S’ólh Téméxw would speak Halq’eméylem.
I was deeply impacted by the discovery of the 215 unmarked graves of children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021. I knew of the school and heard stories from Elders about it before the discovery, and the finding of the evidence was vindicating as it uncovered the real truths that sent shockwaves throughout the country. During that time, I was completing a large tapestry, and it was working on that piece that helped me get through the discovery. I also felt like I wanted to do something to help survivors, with my mom being a survivor of St. Laurent day school in Manitoba and my partner being a survivor of St. Mary's school in Mission, BC. I decided I would raise money through beadwork and donate all the proceeds to The Orange Shirt Society.
In October of 2021, I was asked to design and create a small loom beaded tapestry for the 30th anniversary edition of My Name Is Seepeetza. I was overwhelmed with emotions to have been given such a great honour to create a piece for someone who has shared their story of being in residential school. Anytime I am commissioned to create, I humbly ask the Creator and the Ancestors for guidance through prayer, tobacco and food offerings. After I have my personal ceremony, I wait for messages or a dream. The best way I can describe the visions is that they are flashes of clear images and feelings. Other times, I will have a vivid dream. I feel like I am there in the moment. In this instance, I envisioned a field of fireweed flowers enveloped in bright sunlight in the late afternoon with a child running and playing in the field. It felt like a happy time. Anytime I receive messages, I always feel a great warmth of gratitude in my heart.
Before I start beading, I always graph by hand on paper, as I feel the design is more authentic coming from me, rather than with the help of a computer. When I was beading this piece, I felt a connection to the author, Shirley, and I felt as though I was beading this piece for the book’s narrator Seepeetza as a six-year-old child. That is what influenced the colours I chose for the beadwork. The bright golden yellow beads represent the beautiful sunny day I felt, and the fireweed flower's petals are beaded with shiny, deep purple beads that twinkle in the light, because every little girl loves sparkles! I also felt it was important to incorporate Seepeetza’s Nlaka’pamux culture. I then researched pre-contact Nlaka’pamux basket designs and sketched the pattern into the design. The pattern I chose really spoke to me as representing strength and resilience in our peoples and cultures.
I am very grateful to have this opportunity bestowed upon me, and I am forever grateful to our Creator, our Ancestors and the Universe for guiding and steering me in the right direction.
A couple of graphed designs for Groundwood Books to choose from.
The final beadwork design.
The final loom beaded tapestry for the book cover.
Learn more about My Name is Seepeetza