Bead & Powwow Supply was founded in 2011 by A. Ellie Mitchell (Saginaw Ojibwe; Eagle Clan). A recent college graduate who was struggling to find culturally meaningful employment, Ellie decided to sell beadwork to make ends meet, as she’d seen done by her relatives and community members. However, she soon became frustrated by the lack of a reliable online source for beads and beading supplies specifically for Indigenous beadwork. Ascertaining that other Indigenous bead artists had the same problem, Ellie began writing a business plan for what would become Bead & Powwow Supply.
The powwow trail was officially introduced to Bead & Powwow Supply at the University of Michigan Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in 2012. An ecommerce website was launched in May that year. In July, Bead & Powwow Supply acquired the entire Czech bead collection of Flying Feathers Trading Post, Inc, an established vendor on the Great Lakes and east coast powwow circuits.
For several years, Ellie focused on visiting as many tribal communities as possible and spent many, many weeks on the powwow trail, as well as “popping up” at various gatherings and events. In late 2013, Ellie formulated a new bead identification system that could be used on small barcodes, which enabled Bead & Powwow Supply to implement a computerized point-of-sale system at powwows that also updated stock on the ecommerce platform. This new system launched in early 2014, at the Michigan State University Powwow; customers were astounded and amazed at the technological integration at a bead booth. That use of technology allowed Bead & Powwow Supply to develop and manage a large inventory that continues to grow to this day. In late 2014, Bead & Powwow Supply hired its first employees, whose task was to label the Flying Feathers stock with barcodes.
Ecommerce became a priority in 2015 and Ellie spent several years improving SEO, writing item descriptions, learning photography, email marketing, and more, all with the help of several employees, relatives, and Saginaw Chippewa community members. In 2017, Bead & Powwow Supply hired another staff member who helped with day-to-day operations while Ellie began pursuing graduate studies. An additional employee helped with writing item descriptions later that year. Those descriptions can still be found on the website today.
In 2019, the remaining Flying Feathers stock was sold and Bead & Powwow Supply acquired the charlotte and true cut bead collection from Magnum’s Beaders Paradise based in Blackfoot, Idaho. Ellie had originally planned to visit Idaho to personally pick up the beads but her vehicle had other plans. She and a friend ended up having lunch at the Gun Lake Casino buffet in Wayland, Michigan then went home to Mount Pleasant. The Beaders Paradise stock arrived via UPS several weeks later.
Later, Bead & Powwow Supply was working on a new strategic plan when the pandemic started. Ellie was in New York City, visiting suppliers in the fashion district in March, when the lockdowns started. She scrambled to get a rental car to take her out of the city and home to the Isabella Indian Reservation, to her pets, family, and beads. Expecting business to fall out, Ellie told her staff to prepare for layoffs. Instead, the Indigenous community showed amazing support and staff were not furloughed and continued to receive paychecks throughout the spring. The support continued during the year and the 2020 holiday season was one of the busiest periods in Bead & Powwow Supply’s history.
Despite challenges from the pandemic and supply chain, Bead & Powwow Supply has continued to serve Indigenous artists, powwow dancers, and tribal communities. The previous decade in business has been one with incredible growth, opportunity, and support from Indigenous communities. We hope to continue that in the coming decades.
About the Owner
Ellie Mitchell is Eagle Clan, Anishinaabe, and is enrolled with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. One of Ellie’s earliest memories is of accompanying her mother to a powwow in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where her mom sold beaded earrings and dreamcatchers. As a child, Ellie loved beads, dancing, history, and Anishinaabemowin (Anishinaabe language), passions which were encouraged at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy, where Ellie attended from kindergarten through 8th Grade. Following high school, she matriculated at Michigan State University, in order to study Anishinaabemowin under Helen (Roy) Fusht, who had previously been the Anishinaabemowin teacher at the Saginaw Chippewa Academy. While at MSU, Ellie was awarded a Morris K Udall Scholarship in recognition of her work on tribal policy related to Anishinaabemowin revitalization. She majored in linguistics with a specialization in American Indian Studies and graduated in 2010, with high honor and an endorsement from the MSU Honors College.
Following graduation, Ellie lived briefly in the territory of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, before she moved home to the Isabella Indian Reservation to start Bead & Powwow Supply. For several years, Ellie’s main focus was growing her business while remaining connected to her community. In 2013, she was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinaabe Culture & Lifeways. She served in that capacity for over eight years, including four years as chairperson, until January 2022.
In 2015, Ellie was revisited by her childhood dream to become a writer. She began experimenting with fiction writing, focusing on fantastical retellings of Anishinaabe history and stories. By developing fictional characters, Ellie began to reflect on toxic and abusive experiences from her own life. In summer 2016, she formally found out her Anishinaabe clan, began traveling to powwows independently, and in July, joined other Jingle Dancers in a healing ceremony at the Saginaw Chippewa Powwow. That dance was officially held, in part, for her maternal grandfather, Phil Peters Sr.-ba, but the experience had a profound impact on Ellie. Following powwow, she found the strength to end an abusive marriage. Later, she joined members of her community who visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In 2017, Ellie celebrated her divorce by starting graduate studies at Central Michigan University. During that first semester, she could be seen at powwows and round dances around Michigan, reading academic articles between songs. Her graduate studies focused on Anishinaabe history, Great Lakes archaeology, literature, and creative writing. Ellie graduated with a Master of Arts in humanities in May of 2020. Unable to host a celebratory feast due to COVID precautions, she commemorated the achievement by doing a widescale sticker giveaway in summer of 2021.
Ellie believes that Indigenous entrepreneurship is part of a healthier future for Indian Country. Tribal member owned small businesses can adapt quickly and fill needs that tribal governments and their enterprises cannot, as tribes are often hampered by federal regulations and intracommunity politics. Ellie is dedicated to increasing the accessibility and approachability of cultural and language resources within Indigenous communities, including those community members who choose (or are forced by settler-colonialism) to reside outside their tribe’s geographical base. She believes that all tribal members have a duty to assert tribal sovereignty and is proud to hold business licenses from several tribes she’s visited. Ellie occasionally shuts down Bead & Powwow Supply to enable her to attend community events and political protests.
In addition to running her business, Ellie works as an academic specialist at Michigan State University. There, she does outreach to tribal communities regarding Anishinaabemowin and Indigenous student retention and recruitment. Ellie co-authored the Reciprocal Research Guide, a publication of MSU’s Native American Institute, which addresses how academic researchers can form healthy collaborations with tribes. She writes about Anishinaabe-aadiziwin (Anishinaabe life), business, and fashion in Indian Country at the Bead & Powwow Supply Blog. Her writing has appeared in Indian Country Today, Yellow Medicine Review, and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Observer. Ellie is currently working on some new fiction and resources for Indigenous artists.
While running a bead store can make her a little tired of beads, Ellie does bead occasionally and is particularly fond of 11/0 2-cuts Opaque Luster Lime. She previously was an ardent user of sharps needles but beading needles are beginning to appeal to her. Ellie loves resisting settler-colonialism, fighting the patriarchy, cooking, eating fancy chocolates, talking about her pets, and staring off into space. She is a Jingle Dress Dancer and a Northern Women’s Traditional Dancer. She lives within the original 1864 Treaty boundaries of the Isabella Indian Reservation, a convenient arrangement as she relies heavily on members of her tribal community to help her navigate life.