Agnes "Oshanee" Kenmille remembers doing her first beadwork 76 years ago when she was 11 years old. She beaded a four-leaf clover on a small purse that she intended to take to a Fourth of July celebration. Agnes's mother was so pleased with her daughter's work that she gave Agnes some extra beads to fill in the background, and that initiated her lifetime of artistic creation.
Although Kenmille has spent most of her life on the Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana, she is now known worldwide for her skills in beadwork, hide tanning, and leatherwork. Born to Salish parents, and married into Kootenai families, Kenmille speaks the three languages of the Flathead Reservation - Salish, Kootenai, and English. She has taught hide tanning and beadwork for more than a decade at Salish Kotenai College, and she offers instruction in the Salish language at the tribal high school, Two Eagle River School.
Today, Kenmille travels from her log home along Flathead Lake, close to the spot where she put up her tipi 60 years ago, to attend pow wows and ceremonials. She says she loves to see the dancers using her beaded mocassins, gloves, vests, breachcloths, and dresses. Agnes sometimes takes a turn as the head woman dancer of the reservation but leaves the fancy dancing to the young people. She says, "When you are really into fancy dancing, you are out there and you really want to go to it. But when you are as old as I am, you can't. I can't jump high. The dancing really makes me feel like I can jump, but I can't." Even so, her magnificent work is carried to new heights by those privileged to dance wearing her regalia.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency