AURORA, S.D. (KELO) – When Keely Eagleshield started her beadwork business six years ago, she had no idea she’d amass a following of thousands on the internet or that her Indigenous artwork would be worn around the world.
“Beadwork plays an important role in my culture. It’s been passed down for generations,” Eagleshield said. “I started doing it professionally because I wanted to do it pretty much 24/7 and the only way to do that is to start a business.”
Eagleshield’s business, BeadsxBeans, makes custom beadwork hats, purses, graduation caps, shoes and occasionally jewelry. Over the six years she’s been in business, Eagleshield’s social media gained traction and she now has over 25,000 followers on Instagram, 18,000 on Facebook and nearly 23,000 on TikTok.
Eagleshield said that over the last 10 years, Indigenous artists have been pushing for their own space in the art and fashion industries. Eagleshield herself was able to carve out a small corner of the internet where she made videos of her art process and the traditions of Native beadwork.
“It’s really difficult when you’re walking the line of trying to respect your culture, but also trying not to fall into the pit of capitalism, which is something that my culture is very against,” Eagleshield said.
Despite her prominent social media following, most of her sales come from word of mouth now. Eagleshield said a surprising amount of people come to her website through Google, rather than a social media page, which suggests people are seeking her work out specifically.
“They’re either Googling ‘handmade Indigenous beadwork’ and somehow I’m popping up, which is really nice, but also I think people are giving my information to their friends and their family.”
While based in the small town of Aurora, Eagleshield’s clients come from all over the country and the world. Her beadwork has even ended up in countries like Brazil, Poland and Germany.
“The fact that I’ve gone international is kind of crazy and being able to have my reach or my influence go that far,” she said. “They are actually understanding that this is an Indigenous person from the Americas; some people don’t even know we still exist.”
Eagleshield is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and grew up in McLaughlin, South Dakota. The reservation there had a community center that held workshops on the weekends for powwow dancing, beading and quillwork. It was here that she picked up her passion for beadwork.
“That was the first time I had ever beaded something and I knew I loved it, but more so, I knew I liked working with my hands,” she said. “Beadwork is definitely something that seems meticulous, and I guess it is, but it’s just something that I thoroughly enjoy.”
After graduating from South Dakota State University in 2020 with a degree in civil engineering, Eagleshield got serious about her beadwork and quit her job to start BeadsxBeans full-time.
The beadwork she specializes in is contemporary and can be worn by anyone, even non-Natives. She does however, create medallions, which are considered special, ceremonial pieces and can only be worn by Natives.
During Native American Heritage Month in November, Eagleshield tries to promote Indigenous history, information and educational materials on her social media. Her book recommendations on Native American topics include “Life’s Journey– Zuya: Oral Teachings from Rosebud” by Albert White Hat Sr., “White Tears, Brown Scars” by Ruby Hamad, which discusses how white feminism can often harm women of color and “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
“I think everyone would enjoy this read because it makes you understand our perspective,” Eagleshield said of ‘Braiding Sweetgrass.’ “Especially if you’re not Indigenous, it makes you feel more connected to our culture and what we talk about when we say we need to connect back to the land.”
Although she supports an entire month to celebrate and recognize Native people, she hopes people consume Native stories and see representation all year long.
“I do like to see people reminding others that we’re not only here for a month,” she said. “You should always be learning about us because working together with the Indigenous people of this land is important to be able to grow and prosper for our future.”