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For Diné Beader, Business Is Good During Playoff, Super Bowl Season

For one Denver artist and beader, business is good when NFL teams favored by Native Americans make it to playoffs, Super Bowl.

It's 6 p.m. on Thursday, and Lilah Sandoval sits with her brother at a pub and eatery in West Denver. Nearly every patron here has some form on Denver Broncos gear on, which is to be expected. The Denver Broncos will take on the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday.

Sandoval is Diné, and the owner and operator of Native Styles, a Denver-based beading company. She said business is good this time of year. Orders roll in for her sports-inspired medallions, which run upwards of $150 a piece.

Lately, Native Americans in Denver are looking to Sandoval for Broncos medallions and earrings. She said Denver has a large Native American community, and she imagines the majority are Broncos fans [some go the Oakland Raider way, she said. But few].

A beaded Broncos medallion by Lilah Sandoval. Photo courtesy Lilah Sandoval.

Beaded Denver Broncos earrings. Photo courtesy Lilah Sandoval

A self-described "die-hard" Broncos fan herself who will paint her face orange and blue for games, Sandoval said she begrudgingly made a Seattle Seahawks medallion in 2014 not long before the team played the Broncos at Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks dealt a painful blow to the Broncos that year, having won 43 to 8.

Lilah Sandoval in her Broncos gear. Photo courtesy Lilah Sandoval.

"I was upset," she said. "I made [the Seahawks medallion] before the Super Bowl. Part of me thinks I jinxed [the Broncos]."

Sandoval, who studied at the University of Colorado Denver, said she does not consider herself an artist. "[Beading] started as a hobby," she said, adding her ex-boyfriend taught her the craft, and she has been doing it since 2000.

Sandoval said Native Americans in town also start submitting orders in preparation for the annual Denver March Powwow. Dancers will wear her beaded work on their regalia during the competition, she said. Some of her beaded ware can take two days to make. "Some take two weeks," she said.

There is, though, a time each year when Sandoval doesn't like watching her beloved Broncos: When they play the Washington NFL team.

"I don't like that. [Their mascot] isn't honoring us. I don't know why they can't change that," she said.

Sandoval added she doesn't like watching the Kansas City Chiefs either due to the cultural appropriation by fans in the stands who are oft painted in redface and wearing faux Native American headdresses.

Still, watching the Broncos is both cozy and cathartic for Sandoval. She said she enjoys the family element, everyone getting together to eat and chat, but she also revels in "yelling at the TV, letting your anger out. ... Just having a good time."

Sandoval is currently in the process of beading a lapel. And about the Broncos on Sunday?

"I know they're going to win," she said.