First Nations artists risk handing over beads to airport security due to carry-on baggage limits


A Cree pearler traveling between Alberta and Quebec was disappointed recently when she had to choose which pearls to leave behind at airport security.

Jessica Sanderson-Barry, a member of the Chakastaypasin gang who lives in Edmonton, was traveling to Kitigan Zibi in Quebec for a clandestine camp. She was going to use her pearls for special projects.

She was discouraged when she had to leave a few vials of her pearls at security, as only a certain amount is allowed in hand luggage, which she was unaware of at the time.

“I was just, like, devastated,” Sanderson-Barry said.

“I need it for specific projects, you know. Pearling is a ceremony for me, and I felt like it was really abrupt.”

She said she had to decide within minutes which pearls to keep and which pearls to leave behind.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘What do I really need on this trip and what do I have to part with?’ And I think it was really difficult for me, because I had to do it in a few minutes because our flight was going to board,” Sanderson-Barry said.

Sanderson-Barry said it was difficult for her to choose which pearls to leave. (Submitted by Jess Sanderson-Barry)

She said she ended up choosing cheaper vials of pearls to leave behind, although she was lucky enough to travel with a friend who was able to carry some for her. She said she had to haggle to keep some of the smaller vials because security staff didn’t weigh any of her items, which she thinks is unfair.

Sanderson-Barry said she was offered the option of having someone pick up the beads for her, but didn’t have time to deal with them before she had to catch the flight.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) told CBC News in an email that the permitted volume of handmade pearls in carry-on baggage is 350ml (the size of a soda can). They are allowed in checked baggage above the 350ml limit.

CATSA said changes made by Transport Canada to the Prohibited Items List in November 2017 included a ban on certain powders and granular materials with a combined volume of 350ml in carry-on baggage.

CATSA said passengers at security with an unauthorized item can return to check-in and put it in checked baggage, leave the item with someone not passing through the checkpoint or return to checkpoint.

If a passenger chooses to turn an item over at the checkpoint, the item is disposed of in accordance with procedures at the airport in question, CATSA said.

Another artist had to give up pearls

Sanderson-Barry isn’t the only pearl artist who recently had to give up pearls at the Edmonton airport.

Alyssa Ross, a Gwich’in pearl artist from Inuvik, Northwest Territories, was traveling from Edmonton to Winnipeg on April 28. She had packed India-specific beads, as well as vintage beads from the 1900s in her carry-on.

Alyssa Ross snapped a photo of her handed pearls at Edmonton International Airport security. (Submitted by Alyssa Ross)

She said it was the first time she had discovered the amount of pearls was a problem in flight, and that on a previous flight in November last year she had been able to exceed the 350ml limit. worry-free.

“I’ve traveled with a suitcase before, a carry-on suitcase, like it was full of pearls – that was all there was in it – and that was never a problem before,” she said.

Because she was traveling alone, Ross had no one to give her extra pearls to. She said carry-on is a better option for delicate glass beads that could potentially shatter when placed in checked baggage.

“I think it’s good to have some awareness … about artists traveling with their supplies,” Ross said.