One Bead at a Time is the oral memoir of Beverly Little Thunder, a two-spirit Lakota Elder from Standing Rock, who has lived most of her life in service to Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in vast areas of both the United States and Canada. Transcribed and edited by two-spirit Métis writer Sharron Proulx-Turner, Little Thunder’s narrative is told verbatim, her melodious voice and keen sense of humour almost audible overtop of the text on the page. Early in her story, Little Thunder recounts a dream from her early adulthood, “I stared at these lily pads for the longest time and I decided that there was one part of the pond that had lots of lily pads and no frogs. I said, ‘I want to go there because there’s lots of lily pads but no frogs and I like creating community.’” And create community she does. Little Thunder established the first and today, the only all-women’s Sundance in the world, securing a land base in the Green Mountains of Vermont for future generations of Indigenous women’s ceremony. She was active in the A.I.M. movement and she continues to practice and promote political and spiritual awareness for Indigenous women around the world. A truly remarkable visionary.
“We have a prophecy in our territories that states: “The tender time will come when our Indigenous women will take back their rightful leadership roles in our societies all across our nations. Until that time our Earth Mother and all beings upon her will be out of balance.” Beverly Little Thunder, our relative, sister, daughter, lives the essence of this inherent traditional role as she unapologetically has shifted the balance to its original state by resurrecting our self-determined self governed ways of Indigenous Matriarchal Clan Mothers values. Those very values that the world so desperately needs in these trying times. Solidly rooted in her Indigenous values, guided by Grandmother’s Wisdom, she has shifted the balance of our Earth Mother and the thousands upon thousands of women she has graciously shared her Indigenous knowledge with.You, Beverly, have made a major contribution to all Indigenous women on this Earth Mother of ours. You have given them the desire to move forward in what we all know needs to be done in this old colonial world of ours. Praises and Congratulations to you on this important life-giving book.”
—Elder Mae Louise Campbell; Ishkote Odeima Ikwe, Daughter Jamie; Mushkeeki Ikwe Bimose Ojibwe-Saulteaux Nation, Clan Mothers Turtle Lodge Healing and Educational Village , Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
“Beverly Little Thunder’s One Bead at a Time is a timely testimonial of the indomitable character and expansive vision necessary to break deeply set patterns of intergenerational intersectional oppression in one’s personal and communal life. The capacity to transform tragedy into possibility, sadness into joy, and social exclusion into an invitation for belonging is perhaps the most powerful tool humanity has at its disposal during these critical times. Let this groundbreaking contribution inspire all of us to work together to reconstitute the circle of life.”
—Sayra Pinto, author of Vatolandia and Pinol: Poems
“Beverly Little Thunder is a dedicated visionary who holds and shares ancient wisdom for modern times. She has chosen the path of ‘earth’ teaching all those who are blessed to meet her on her path how to respect All of the Relations on our planet and beyond. All these teachings held in a womb of nonhierarchy connecting the dots to unity consciousness…as she continues to cast her seeds across this Turtle Continent, each of us treads more lightly on our Mother Earth, one step at a time … each of us a part of the eternal sacred hoop of life.”
—Rev. Ann Benedetto, Pastor, Interfaith Ministries
One Bead at a Time: A Memoir by Beverly Little Thunder
reviewed by E.D. Woodford
Prairie Fire Magazine – July 13, 2018
In a time of truth and reconciliation, One Bead at a Time: A Memoir by Beverly Little Thunder, is a book that should be read. This memoir is an oral account of her life stories that have been transcribed by Sharron Proulx-Turner. Beverly’s story originates with her Indigenous family roots of North Dakota and stories of her grandmother and great grandmother, followed by her own mother. Between attempts to raise chickens, learning Lakota and experiences of poverty, cherished memories connect the collection of stories throughout.
We were very poor, but I didn’t see myself as poor. I thought that everybody lived the way we lived. We never had a matching set of dishes; we had broken, chipped, mismatched plates. My mother used to buy oatmeal in a box where you got a free dish, so we had various dishes from different boxes of oatmeal. We also had jelly jars and pickle jars—my mother liked pickles, so we had lots of pickle jars— which we drank out of. (5)
Beverly’s own parents met in the army. Her mother, a spirited women dropped out of university as Indigenous women at the time were only permitted to be nurses or teachers and she wasn’t a fan of children or blood. Joining the Women’s Army Corps, she met Beverly’s father. The book is a gem of family secrets, some hard and unfathomable, others utterly joyous. However, during the decades of stories we learn of the shadow looming: Beverly’s sense of abandonment and disassociation.
The memoir does not hold back and her humour threads amongst the stories. Two-spirited, Beverly’s first date with a woman, comically, happens during the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana. Who remembers what they were doing at the time of this royal wedding? How many others were glued to the TV eating toasted tomato tea sandwiches, watching the ceremony with my great-grandmother as I was? Meanwhile, in another part of North America, Beverly is watching the ceremony on TV with her first female date.
“Placing one bead at a time, planting one seed at a time, and taking one step at a time—like the young girl with the star fish—I know I can make a difference in each life I touch: one person at a time,” Beverly reveals (212). The significance of beading in Beverly Little Thunder’s life meaningfully links stories throughout One Bead at a Time: A Memoir. From the Indian Movement to Sundancing, an enormous reward to readers is learning not only about Beverly’s life, but of her accomplishments serving both Indigenous and non-indigenous women in North America in her own words.
E.D. Woodford is a Métis writer and co-founder of Wildflower Writing Workshops focusing on auto-ethnographic creative non-fiction and poetry. She is author of Wild Hearts, Gypsy Soul, a collection of auto-ethnographic poems based on poetic inquiry. She is a cultural anthropologist and Indigenous researcher, Learning Consultant, and Post-Secondary Instructor. Her recent academic research has been published in Transformative Dialogues and the CAPS Journal.