Hi! My name is Hema Patel. I was born in Arizona but spent my childhood on two Reservations: the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota and the Sisseton Wahpeton Reservation of South and North Dakota. Now, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota! (Note: The cover photo is taken by Adam Sings in the Timber)
My submission is a collection of photos, words, and art pieces that symbolize my journey to embrace my heritage and identity. They also symbolize the ways in which I try to honor my ancestors, through Ojibwe beadwork and Classical Indian Dance, Bharatanatyam.
I hope my ancestors are proud of my work to honor our cultures. Part of the reason I love to incorporate beadwork onto “modern-day fashion” and incorporate Classical Indian dance into other styles is that it is important to see my heritage out in the “popular” world. I love grabbing my favorite beaded earrings and heading to dance practice where I am fusing my own styles with anything and everything. To see some beadwork on a jacket out on the street is to remember that Indigenous art is still real, here, here to stay, and gorgeous. These art forms are important to share and grow. I feel lucky to have a part growing with them, and I am so full of ideas to improve and change my art. There is so much to say about the way I have come to know myself today. Instead, I want my art to say it for me. I hope my pieces remind you of your own pride for heritage and culture.
Thank you so much to Tyler for reaching out! I love this blog and feel so lucky to be able to share my story alongside so many other powerful women! <3
Here are my words. Poetry is something very new to me but this piece feels like a reflection of my relationship with my identity. I hope it means something to you, as it means so much to me.
Indigeneity. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Sitting at the powwow grounds, my brother’s arm wrapped around my shoulder.
Big braids swinging from our tiny heads.
Losing my grip on my Indianness.
Like when I thread my needle but the thread slips out and my beads slide into the obscurity of wherever I’ve taken them today. The grass by the lake, or the blanket on the sidelines of my sisters’ soccer game.
Thread and beads falling away like I think my heritage might be sometimes.
Picking juneberries with Uncle on the Rez and bussing to beading class at the Indian Health Clinic in the city. When the needle pricks my fingers, I feel the sting of juneberry juice seeping through my cut. Shouldn’t I always feel it in my blood though?
Bunches of cousins. And every single one is Indian. Giizhawenim, मैं तुमसे प्यार करती हूँ.
I love you.
Feeling pride in every drumbeat and confidence in the ringing bells strapped to my ankles.
Feeling fear that I am either too much or not enough. That my own heritage is not my own right.
But what makes me feel Indian? Some of us feel so Indian we either think about it every single day or we never think about it at all.
Remembering that being Indian is being me. You’re Indian because you’re Indian because you’re Indian.
Remembering that my bindi, my braids, and my shawl are my sacredness.
Woman of word and wile. Sister and relative.
Remembering that I am sacred.
Italicized lines are quotes from Tommy Orange’s There, There
Here are some photos of my beadwork and my dance, and some photos just for fun:)
For prom my junior year, I wanted to wear something that represented my culture and didn’t give in to fast fashion. I found/bought my entire outfit second-hand, and I hand-beaded designs on the black blazer. I wanted both sides of the blazer to pop with color and showcase some beautiful Ojibwe artwork.
Here are a few pictures of the process of beading the jacket. This was my first major beading project and I am so proud to wear it to this day! My mom helped me design the beadwork, modeled after our cradleboard I had always admired growing up. The rose at the top is what we call an Ojibwe Rose, and the flower at the bottom is a water flower.
For prom my senior year, I wanted to switch it up and show some pride for my Indian heritage! My best friend Mia helped me craft this outfit, and my Dadhi found me jewelry in India to complete the look. Kinda felt like an Indian superwoman. As you can tell I am a big fan of pants…
I beaded my graduation cap! The eagle and turkey feather tassels were gifted to me by my cousin and by the Indian Education Department of Minnesota.
My senior Indian dance recital, and final performance, wearing the outfit my company had made in India.
A photo from one of my dance fusion pieces! My friends Khetasar and Darius shared their dance styles with me and we created something new from our cultures/backgrounds. This photo was taken after we had performed, but we were still dancing for fun:)
This is one of my earliest attempts at Indian dance fusion. Since then, I’ve made a lot of progress but I don’t have any videos of those works! This fusion was a mixture of Bharatanatyam (my Indian dance style) and my friend Iman from my dance class in high school.
A pouch I thrifted from Savers, washed, and then beaded as a gift for my best friend.
My lovely Indigenous friend, Melayna Libscomb, wearing the first pair of earrings I ever beaded. My gift to her<3
A few examples of some of the dangles I’ve created! I have so much fun with color schemes that I often end up making one earring rather than the pair… I just keep starting new ones! It’s more fun to mix and match anyway, right?
Sun circles that I made for my sister to wear and remember me by as I am away at college.
A beaded jacket I made for my youngest sister, with the Four Directions colors. It is modeled after the beaded jacket my mom made in college and gifted to me.
Just for fun!
Photo Creds – Kohar Avakian
With the fam!