Beadwork and regalia making is very important to Indigenous people. Many of the Plateau Tribes who lived along the tributaries of the Columbia River spoke a dialect of Ichishkiin or Sahaptin language.
They all use longhouses and celebrate First Food Ceremonies such as Salmon Feast, Root Feast and Huckleberry Feast.
Roberta says, “We always show ourselves to Creator in our finest wear and so we make beautiful clothing for our children and families.”
Roberta learned traditional beadwork skills early in life. She says, “I saw my older sister doing beadwork when I was a child and she showed me how to work on projects. Sewing, self-taught. I know how to sew and can look at something and figure out how to make it or make a pattern. When I was a young girl, my family’s home burnt down and many priceless treasures burnt up as well such as huckleberry baskets, beaded bags, beaded dresses, and photographs. As I was growing up, I always saw the girls my age wearing beautiful dresses that were passed down from their grandparents and I didn’t have any. My mother was an orphan and raised by her grandmother who was a medicine woman. Everything that was gifted to my mother was burnt in the home fire and so I knew if I wanted anything then I better learn how to make it myself.”
Since then, Roberta has been making ribbon shirts, shell dresses, and beaded buckskin dresses. Accessories such as moccasins, beaded bags, beaded eagle fans, barrettes, and buckskin burial outfits for men, women and children.
Roberta has made several traditional Plateau Shell Dresses. This dress will include floral applique on the shoulder or yoke, front and back, and will also have three rows of dentallium shells in the front and back. This dress is for ceremonies to be worn at the longhouse for feasts or for other ceremonies. During funerals for other food gathers or highly regarded persons, Native women wear shell dresses or buckskin dresses in their honor. The shell dress has been used by the Columbia River Plateau people for many many years and it’s typical to adorn it with beads and shells or elk teeth.
Roberta’s Indian name is H’Klumaiyat and she is Wasco, Warm Springs on her mother’s side and Dine’ on her father’s side. She is enrolled and hs been raised with her mother’s tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. She is a traditional food gatherer for the Simnasho Longhouse and this includes digging for the Root Feast and picking huckleberries for the Huckleberry Feast.
She studied museology and three-dimensional arts at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Sante Fe, NM and completed in 1985.
She has been working in museum related areas since then and also still doing beadwork and longhouse fashion design as her artistic expression. She has worked as Registrar for the Museum at Warm Springs and then worked at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) as a Museum Specialist where she oversaw the Traditional Care component of NMAI’s collection. She now works in the Warm Springs tribe’s Cultural Resources Department as the NAGPRA Coordinator and Review and Compliance Coordinator.
This presentation is an Indigenous Voices 2017 program. Look for Roberta’s additional beadwork demonstrations May 27, and June 10.