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Indigenous stories

Dot by Dot: Combining Traditional Indigenous Beadwork with Technology to Create a Unique Piece of Art

We’ve commissioned artists from several First Nation communities across Canada to design their own version of a beaded Petro-Canada logo. Our initial plan was to choose one to digitize and share to acknowledge the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples as well as celebrate our relationships. But after seeing all the artists’ designs, we wanted to share all of them – along with the stories of each of the artists – with Canadians. 

Chenoa Plain, member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation located in Sarnia, Ontario and descendant of the Ojibwa and Navajo people, created the version of our Petro-Canada logo that we chose to digitize. It took Chenoa a while to arrive at her final design for the logo. “I prayed on it to help me decide what I should emphasize in this piece. I wanted to include elements that represent all the issues that we (Indigenous people) are going through as well as my own background.”

“The Ojibway florals with the roots on the left of the maple leaf represent Anishinaabe people as well as the growing that we all do every day. The handprints and spirit circles on the right side of the maple leaf represent all our Missing & Murdered as well as those who did not return from Residential schools.”

“The lip of the circle above the maple leaf represents the sun and the moon, recognizing the importance of Mother Earth. And the inner maple leaf houses a portion of my First Nation logo – the opening of a tipi – representing the relationship that First Nations have with companies like Petro-Canada as they move towards Truth and Reconciliation with our people.”

The representation of truth and reconciliation rings true with Katie Wilhelm, graphic designer and member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing with Canadian settler heritage. We engaged Katie (who also designed our Pride logo) to create a digital version of Chenoa’s beadwork logo.

“Chenoa’s logo covers some big topics. It reminds us of what was done to Indigenous people by Canadian settlers. But the answers to these challenges are also in the logo. Chenoa’s design is a call to action. Beaded wampum belts were used to seal promises between nations. This logo can stand as a call to action to re-examine those treaties. What did we promise each other? What can we do to heal the relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler allies?”

When creating the digital version of Chenoa’s logo, Katie found it tough to initially get going. “In the process of creating the digitized version, I changed my design plan several times. But I realised that to stay true to the ethos of the design, I needed to go dot by dot. Creating a digital version of Chenoa’s logo has been a challenge. It’s taken me outside my comfort zone and pushed my skill set. Ultimately, though, it’s made me a better designer.”

Katie shared some of the process behind creating the digital version of Chenoa’s logo. “I counted the number of beads in the original design and then mapped the different types of beads in the columns and the rows, staggering the lines to create movement in a static medium. To do the digitization, I created a digital brush in Illustrator for each of the different bead types, four in total. And in staying true to the traditional beaded method, I added the digital beads in the design in the same way that Chenoa sewed them in – one by one. Ultimately, it’s not a perfect representation of the original – but it does give a sense of the intricacy of Chenoa’s design.”

Once Katie finalized her process and started working on the logo, she got into a flow state. “As I worked on it, I was able to spend time thinking about the implications of an Indigenous person – two Anishinaabe women, actually – collaborating to create a logo for an oil and gas company. It made me consider issues like cultural appropriation. Similar to some of the concerns I had when creating Petro-Canada’s Pride logo, I questioned the intent behind representing these cultural symbols. Understanding intent is essential.”

Katie continues, “I believe that Petro-Canada has done the work and made the effort to meet Indigenous people on their terms. Individuals within the company have done the work. And it’s those individuals that will drive change. Certainly, there are further steps to be taken. For example, create board positions and other positions of leadership for Indigenous people. Or work with Indigenous people to understand their values and teachings. Corporations want to grow, grow, grow. For Indigenous people, we want to ensure that we can sustain ourselves and our children for seven generations.” 

“The Indigenous ways of knowing and being are different than the Western world. These two ways of knowing are reflected in the media in which this logo is created: both traditional beadwork and modern digital form. But if we could use also two-eyed seeing to have more compassion for each other… how much more beautiful healing and collaboration could happen?”

Many thanks to Chenoa, Katie and all the beadwork artists for their contributions to this project and sharing their stories! We are honoured to share them with you. Read about the other artists and see their versions of the logo.