Hustler from the Tribe

A woman who spends 5-10 hours on just one pair of earrings must be a hustler. She hustles for what she needs and does it the legal way. Melissa Maki beads. 

Beads? Yes, beads. According to Wikipedia, "beadwork is the art or craft of attaching beads to one another by stringing them with a sewing needle or beading needle and thread or thin wire, or sewing them to cloth."

It's time consuming but it’s beautiful and it's a tradition that was passed down from Melissa's great-great-grandmother.

"It's my stress relief," said Melissa. "I like how the colors come together...it can get addicting."

Melissa is a Native from the Ojibwe tribe who started beading at the age 12. She learned the way of the ropes from her Aunt, but her great-great-grandmother started the family tradition. 

The very first piece Melissa beaded was a fully beaded traditional dress for a Pow Wow Festival. It took her a few years to finish the dress because she would get bored with it. 

She beads when she cans. She's a mother of two daughters and she's recently graduated from undergraduate school at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Kinesiology. Melissa is going back for graduate school in May.

Melissa is a single mother who does all that she can for her children. She beads for a hobby, but, also for extra cash. Depending on the time, size and effort put into her earrings they range from $20-$50. She not only beads earrings and dresses but also barrettes. She's been asked to bead all kinds of items like shoes.

"I see things and I'm like oooh I can bead that."

Melissa's focused on becoming a physical therapist more than a beadworker.

She left her reservation at 18 to attend school in Minneapolis to attain her massage therapist license. Eventually she lost the license and moved back to her reservation. 

Life on the reservation can be good because "everything is connected in one way or another," but it can also be depressing because of the historical trauma the Natives are still dealing with. Some Natives handle their troubles by drinking or by overdosing on drugs, said Melissa. She needed to get away so she transferred from technical school to UWM in 2013.

Melissa's reservation isn't a part of the state, but they do still have ties with the government because of their casino: Lake of the Torches in Lac Du Flambeau, WI.

Melissa's sister Katie Maki watches her daughters two times out the week while Melissa works late nights.

She wants to show her daughters "even if we don't know exactly where we're going, we're going to get there one or another."

Melissa hardly sleeps and when she gets time she's beading.

“I like to be creative in my own way," said Melissa. "When I’m in school I do miss beading.”

She’s excited but nervous about graduate school. Melissa will be in a physical therapy program for three years and she’s worried about her workload. Once school begins beadwork will be put to the side until she’s on another break from school.

Melissa wants to be a physical therapist because she likes to help others. She’s not sure who she wants to work with more: athletes, the Native community or the disabled.

She wants to help heal the athletes, reduce the Native’s drug abuse and help relax the disabled because she seen what therapy did for her brother who has cerebral palsy.

“It’s more about looking at someone as whole instead of a piece,” she said. “I like the philosophy of the body and how it’s all connected.”

Beading is a hobby, physical therapy is her dream and being a mom is what she was meant to be.

“I think everyone has a skill or talent, they just have to find it.”