Weaving Sukdu (Stories)

Meet beading artist and environmental advocate Danielle Stickman

We recently participated in a photoshoot in Alaska’s Knik Glacier with Danielle Stickman (She/Her) and other local artists and activists who bring awareness to local climate issues. For Danielle, who is of Dena’ina and Koyukon Athabascan descent, this resulted in the creation of a beautiful dreamcatcher. We invited Danielle to share in her own words what beading, the land and advocacy means to her. Here’s what she wrote.

“Why do you go up mountains and come down empty handed?” my great uncle asked me years ago when I told him I was preparing to do the Everest Basecamp Trek in Nepal. “You’re not even hunting or picking berries. What’s the purpose?” He asked the same question when I walked 500 miles in Spain and when I would wander around the mountains of Alaska. My answer to him was, “Because it’s beautiful, it’s good exercise and it’s where I feel most alive.” 

My great uncle is of the generation that knows the land. He knows where the animals will be, how to navigate the lake waters, how to read the weather, how to set snares and traps, how to make snowshoes and sleds and how to live completely in reciprocal relationship with the land, waters and animals. He learned everything, not from books, but by experience and by living out on the ełnena (land) all his life. His learning and actions were for the survival of his family. To go up a mountain without thinking of community and reciprocity does not make sense to my uncle.

The values of reciprocity and community have guided the major decisions in my life. I earned a degree in environmental science because I wanted to protect animals, lands and waters. I became a vegetarian because I did not want to support animal mistreatment in the meat industry. I advocate for Indigenous rights, salmon rights and environmental rights because there is an underlying stream fueling my passion to support the survival of the interdependent community that I was raised in.

Danielle Stickman

I was taught that the purpose of my actions had to benefit more than just myself. Beading was one of those activities that brought me joy, contentment and peace, but it also was like going up a mountain and coming down empty handed; beading was self-serving until I started to give the dreamcatchers away.

I have been beading for nearly twenty years. I’ve given dozens of dreamcatchers away and started selling them eleven years ago. I bead because it grounds me in a world of chaos and unpredictability. Taking the time to sit still and bead is truly a gift. Beading was and is the north star to bring me back to myself. Four years ago, after I finished my second yoga teacher training, I started naming each dreamcatcher a Dena’ina Athabascan word. Through the mind/body awareness from the yoga practice, I realized what was lacking in my artwork was intentionality. It was easy to make something beautiful but to expand upon that and make something meaningful and support the revitalization of our endangered language-that aspect truly opened the possibilities of what creating art meant for me.

Dreamcatchers were not a part of Dena'ina culture, but beadwork was and still is. As I have started to create scenes in the dreamcatchers, I feel closer to Dena’ina Ancestors and to the energy of the place of the scene. Metaphorically, I see the dreamcatcher hoop that I weave the beadwork on as the land that holds us safely. The thread is Dena’ina traditional values. The beads are each of us; humans, animals and waters; creating sukdu (stories) of love, strength, resilience and intentionality. Each dreamcatcher takes six to thirty hours, depending on the size of the hoop. With the hours comes humility with every needle, thread or bead breaking. With every hour comes new insights and understanding of myself and the art form.

With the Skitnu Łi’a (Knik Glacier) dreamcatcher, the unfolding of the dreamcatcher was a struggle to conceptualize and implement until we flew out onto the glacier, settled into our campsite and sat on the ice and on the glacial silt and became part of the scene. I listened to the Łi’a. I heard the sukdu of how she’s shifting with climate change. I heard the sukdu of the animals and people that have traversed her back. I heard the words of support from the Dena’ina Ancestors: “The purpose is in what you choose to do with your talent and time and that is enough.”

About Danielle: Danielle is of Dena’ina and Koyukon Athabascan descent, with her parents' ancestry originating from the Yukon River and Bristol Bay, Alaska. Her passion for working in conservation and with Indigenous communities is rooted in her cultural upbringing and ancient practice of respecting all living beings and the ełnena (earth). Danielle received her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She has worked around the state of Alaska for more than a decade, advocating for local and cultural subsistence rights, diversity, equity and inclusion in public forums and acting as a Tribal liaison. In her free time, Danielle enjoys hiking, practicing yoga, beading for her small business Dena’ina Dreams and spending time and learning from the ełnena.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.