Sharing a personal story through the creation of Wampum Belts

teacher is threading beads on a Wampum belt surrounded by students.
Shaker Road fourth grade teacher Erika Bushey helps students finish up their Wampum belts.

Fourth-grade students at Shaker Road Elementary have been learning about Native American art and culture in their classrooms. 

This week the students participated in an in-depth exploration of Haudenosaunee history, traditions, and laws by studying Wampum belts. Wampum belts are beaded belts traditionally made by tribes of the indigenous people of North America. These belts were commonly made with hand-carved beads created from clam shells and other available natural elements. 

student holds up her beaded belt proudly,
Fourth-grade student proudly shows off her Wampum belt.

“Wampum belts were gifted or created to record events and were meant to become an important living record of Indigenous culture,” said South Colonie teacher Erika Bushey. “Traditionally, many Indigenous Nations did not speak the same language, but they all possessed knowledge of the standard symbols, patterns, or color allowing them to communicate with each other.”

​After discussing the traditional purpose and process behind these Wampum belts, the students created their own. They brainstormed the story or idea they wanted to tell and share. Once they decided on the message, they planned out the symbols on paper before beginning to make their individual belts.

After learning the process of weaving, the students completed their Wampum belts. Most students held their belts high, proud to share their individual stories—the most common themes of note were family, pets, and nature.