Louise Alphonse started her artistic career with an act of selflessness.
Her daughter was a pow wow dancer and they went to a pow wow in Alberta where everybody was wearing beadwork and impressive regalia. Her daughter was upset and wouldn’t dance, so Alphonse asked why.
“She said it was because she didn’t look as good as the other people,” Alphonse said. “So I took it upon myself to learn how to bead and how to make regalia so she could dance.”
Originally from the Canim Lake Band, but now based in Kamloops, Alphonse learned everything about beading and buckskin herself, through trial by error.
Her work on her daughter Janelle’s regalia started to get noticed when Janelle went on Powwow Trail, a series of pow wows occurring in Alberta, B.C. and parts of the U.S. People liked what they saw and started to order work from Alphonse.
Alphonse said her favourite part of beading is creating different designs, using different colours and just getting creative. She said the act has also taught her patience.
Raised by the Elders of the Canim Lake Band (Eliza, Joe, Dora and Lizzie Archie), Alphonse said Eliza Archie used to make her count beads.
Alphonse would also watch Lizzie Archie do buckskin work — vests, moccasins and more — when she was little.
However, Alphonse didn’t start doing any buckskin work of her own until five years ago, after the then Chief of the Clinton Indian Band asked her to make a vest.
“He also asked me to make his headdress and that was the first headdress I ever made too. That was the only one I ever made. It’s kind of a sacred thing. People have to ask you to make it. You just can’t make it,” she said.
Alphonse is the former editor of the Secwepemc News, a newspaper distributed throughout the 17 Shuswap nations, and its closure five years ago allowed her to focus on her artistry full-time.
The same year that the newspaper closed, Alphonse entered a contest in Kamloops, called The Mother of Earth. She used a pair of fully-beaded moccasins with a bear paw as her entry, winning first place.
“It made me realize how good my work really is. I had a lot to offer because we all doubt ourselves, you know? It gave me a boost of confidence so I started going public,” she said.
She also did commissions for the BC Summer Games in 2006 as well as commissions for people as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
Alphonse travels to a lot of pow wows. When she sees kids who have no regalia, she said she takes it upon herself to make them some.
She said it makes her happy to see the children dancing and happy.
“It’s a spiritual gift and every child should have the opportunity to dance,” she said.
The biggest challenge Alphonse said she faces in her line of work is not having enough time in a day.
She is also about to take on her biggest project yet, beading an entire traditional woman’s regalia, which would take two years to make.
“I have the pattern all cut out. I’m just creating a design right now. Usually, when creating, I give an offering of tobacco and I just wait until the design comes to me,” she said.
However, when it’s complete she will most likely sell it. She is not a dancer herself, and her daughter who is now an adult no longer dances either.
“I just want to do it because it’s a challenge to me.”