Evelyn Turner

Beadwork and Dream Work: Evelyn Turner Stitches Together a Future

“One thing at a time and anybody can do it. You just have to have the drive and the dedication,” says Evelyn Turner. She has a business called Handmade by Evelyn Turner and she lives in North Bay, Ontario. She creates Indigenous handmade products and beaded jewelry, having sold over 10,000 earrings. Selling online through a Facebook group was how she got started, then she ended up selling at powwows and Indigenous events. It was a big learning curve but she’s built up her client base. 

She was born and raised in Weenusk First Nation near Attawapiskat, Ontario, a fly in only reserve. Growing up with no tv, she learned to entertain herself. Spending time with her mom, she learned to bead. She drilled into Turner early to be exact with her beadwork. Since then, she’s been coming up with her own designs. 

When a mild stroke kept her from stocking shelves at the grocery store on the graveyard shift, she went back to her beading to lift her out of depression. Turner had been working overnights to offset her husband’s school schedule so they could care for their twin toddlers. A high school dropout who left school to care for his family, he was struggling with dermatitis from the oils he worked with as a mechanic.  

They moved to Ottawa to further his education until he got an engineering job. Through night school, university and receiving his professional designation, he’s become part-owner of a company. As a mature student, it was tough but worth the struggle. “Now he has a job he always wanted, and I have the job I always wanted,” Turner beams. 

Turner had mobility issues with her hand but made a medallion she sold for $27. Now selling her beadwork, she is able to provide for her family. She beads while her husband works and every weekend, Turner is selling somewhere new. She beads between events and in the winter to build her stock up for the spring and summer. With the power of the internet, she can work from anywhere with a post office and a network connection. 

With a high school diploma and a year and a half of education in business management, her first job was as  an airline ticketing agent. Turner learned business from her father who had been a manager at the Hudson Bay, learning about the cost of goods and reinvesting in the business while living off profits and saving for a rainy day. 

Turner also developed a wise perspective with his guidance. “There are going to always be those rainy days, where you're not pulling an income, where you shouldn't get discouraged. You just have to look forward to always keep your eye on the goal,’" she explains. Over time, she’s learned to take on opportunities and to trust her gut. Making her own decisions instead of letting others choose for her, she’s found the driving force inside her to succeed. 

Her advice for any students or youth who might be thinking about leaving their community is hopeful. “When you are young, you have the world before you. It's an amazing place, lots of places to see lots of things to do… Go out and explore it,” she urges. Her brother left home to get his Master’s degree and built a career as a band manager. He came back north to improve things on reserve even though he had lots of companies ready to hire him, all because he took a chance and left home.   

One of the barriers Turner encountered along her own journey was she was becoming almost too successful and she wasn’t getting enough family time. That became a problem at a certain point. She had to learn it’s okay to take a day off to spend with family and she didn’t need to feel guilty for resting. 

To maintain her mental health, she takes time for herself. Even if she’s busy on a project, if she’s not feeling well, she takes a break. Keeping in contact with customers about delays, she’s able to make things work while taking care of herself. During the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was shopping online, Turner was working 16-18 hour days to keep up. One post office errand she dropped off 97 packages and she realized she was setting herself up for another stroke from the lack of sleep. 

If she could give her younger self advice it would be to listen to herself. “Even if you think you were lost, you really aren't.. I do believe in the path that the Creator puts forth. You just have to figure out the path… Never regret your decisions because inevitably all your decisions are what makes you you. You learn from either past mistakes, or you learn from what you did,” she suggests. 

"Even if you think you are lost, you really aren't."

Creating and making things inspires Turner. Because she’s become successful, she can pick and choose which projects she takes on and now turns down opportunities that don’t make sense. “If you work hard, and don't give up on yourself, you will get to that point, it just takes a lot of work at the beginning,” she encourages. Her dad instilled in her the wisdom that businesses take time to build and if you are still passionate when it’s established, it’s what you are meant to do.

Outside of the creations she sells, she also teaches beadwork on zoom through Connected North. At first she was worried because she’s not tech savvy but she managed to figure it out. Turner teaches students that it takes time to learn new skills. “It's one stitch at a time. Enjoy it. It's not a race… as long as you enjoy what you're doing,” she advises. In closing, she wants Indigenous youth to believe in themselves, do their best, no matter what they decide to do and do it for themselves knowing that’s what’s in their heart. She wants them to know there’s nothing stopping them from achieving their dreams. 

One thing at a time, knowing anybody can do it, Evelyn Turner had the drive and the dedication to create a beading business to sustain her. She’s found a way to support herself after having a stroke and to take care of herself to avoid another one. Making beadwork and a life for her family, she’s following her dreams on the powwow trail and bringing a little bling wherever she goes.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    March 6, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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