Feb. 12 – TRAVERSE CITY – 33-year-old Autumn “Ellie” Mitchell wears many titles, but the one that makes her most proud in her community is “The Bead Kwe.”
For the past decade on the original treaty borders of the Isabella Indian Reservation, Mitchell has operated her small business, Bead & Powwow Supply, with aspirations of uplifting other Native American artisans and communities.
For Mitchell, she said the craftsmanship of her culture was important in her upbringing, from an early age she was taught to bead and sew.
His mother made badges for powwows and sold traditional Ojibway dreamcatchers and beads, often at powwows or within their community to supplement their family’s income.
“Serving the needs of Native American artisans has always been important to me,” Mitchell said. This perspective has been important to his business practices over the years.
Many Native American families depend on their crafts to supplement their income or be the sole provider of their income, Mitchell said. She understood the importance of providing quality cultural supplies and materials specifically tailored to Indigenous communities and their culture.
The road to becoming a businesswoman was not originally in Mitchell’s plans after earning her undergraduate degree in linguistics at Michigan State University.
Mitchell said she had a hard time finding a job, so she fell back on what her family had always known how to do: traditional crafts. Intending to sell her bead work, she grew frustrated after struggling to find a single source online for the supplies needed.
Seeing a niche, she started writing a business plan after returning home.
“I needed to be among my community, my family,” Mitchell said.
When she launched Bead & Powwow Supply in 2011, Mitchell began as a vendor booth within her community at powwows hosted by colleges.
“At the heart of it, powwows bring everyone together in the community, no other space does,” Mitchell said, adding that being able to reach everyone in these spaces was important to her.
She began following the trail of powwows across the country, as she wanted to engage the communities she grew up in.
Over the years, Mitchell expanded her business from a one-stop vendor booth to a fully operational warehouse while she studied and graduated from Central Michigan University.
In 2020, Mitchell earned her master’s degree in the humanities with a focus on Native American studies and now serves as the Native Community Liaison at MSU.
Her role helps connect people with resources such as grants, in the revitalization of Anishinaabemowin for communities in the region. She has also worked for the Saginaw Chippewa Anishinaabemowin Language Revitalization Department and served on the board of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways.
Mitchell’s efforts to help bring Ojibwe culture and language back to her community are driven and inspired by them, she said.
Honoring the reconnection or continuation of Indigenous craftsmanship is important to Mitchell. She said it brings her the biggest smile knowing that she is able to help uplift contemporary artists in their own work.
Her pearl work and business can be found at powwowsupply.com