Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs is bringing artists and social influencers together to promote Indigenous fashion.
Fashion is so much more than the clothing we put on our backs each day. Designers often think of it as a creative act and an expression of themselves. For many Indigenous artists, it’s also an expression of their culture and the traditions that have been handed down for hundreds of years.
“It’s important that we keep our culture alive and one way we are able to do that now is through fashion,” says social influencer Theland Kicknosway.
Kicknosway is a Potawatami and Cree influencer and activist from Ottawa who has been promoting his culture and raising awareness around Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit since he was a child. With a following of more than 400,000 on Tiktok, he is able to reach a wide audience. Through this collaboration, Kicknosway will be promoting a pair of Bambi’s boxer style sealskin mitts, of Bambi Traditional Arts as well as one of Taalrumiq (Christina King)’s blue sealskin bow ties, featuring beading around the edges. He plans on donning a dapper outfit to go along with the sealskin bowtie and will talk a bit about the pieces he’s wearing.
“You feel powerful when you wear this stuff, like this is what we were meant to wear,” says Kicksnoway. “It might not seem like a big thing, but wearing something that’s homemade and made with love and just with pure good intentions is something that you really have to cherish. And you’re really grateful for it. I know I am.”
The campaign is a joint project between the social influencers and the artists whose work is showcased through Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs. It was organized as a way for Indigenous artists and influencers to work together, share their work and support each other.
“It means so much to me to see Indigenous creators [sharing] my artwork because it’s such a huge gain for me,” says April Allen of Stitched by April. It’s also exciting for the Rigolet, Nunatsiavut-born woman to see Indigenous people rise to the forefront of social media, representing their many different cultures. “We are all able to share our experiences and uplift and inspire one another.”
Allen’s work will be showcased by influencers Julie Carver, Caroline Novalinga and Marika Sila, who will don Allen’s Sealskin Swarovski pearl earrings, as well as her signature necklace and earrings, respectively. The two latter pieces use natural sealskin as well as silver fox fur. The necklace has turquoise beading while the earrings have periwinkle beads. They both feature a V-shape, which signifies the traditional tattoo that many Inuit women receive on their foreheads. Traditional Inuit tattoos were originally given to mark a milestone in women’s lives. Allen says that to her, the V-shape in particular signifies entering womanhood. However, for decades, the Catholic Church had banned the tattoos as another way of trying to strip Inuit from their culture. It’s only in recent years that women have begun to revitalize the tradition. Allen’s jewelry depicting the V-shape tattoo is exceptionally significant to her, as she says they represent community, healing, strength and resiliency.
“I come from a family of residential school survivors,” she says. “With colonialism, our culture was stripped away from us and I wanted to create a piece of artwork that would kind of represent taking back our culture or reclaiming our culture.”
When creating the first pair of earrings with this V-shape design, Allen says it was like she instantly knew this would be her signature piece. “I literally felt the energy of our ancestors.”
Most of her products come with a note explaining more about her culture and what the design behind the earrings or necklace means. But to have them worn by popular social influencers will mean spreading that message even further.
Novalinga is best known for her throatsinging videos, with her daughter Shina Novalinga, and has a following of more than half a million on Tiktok. As part of the campaign, Novalinga also shows off an orange sealskin bracelet and earrings made by NWT’s Cheryl’s Fennell.
“I am wearing an orange sealskin bracelet and earrings made by @fennellcheryl. As a mother, I know that Every Child Matters, and these orange sealskin earrings and cuffs remind us of that,” Novalinga says in her Instagram post. She goes on to talk about why she loves the products from Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Designs. “This is a brand that will always have my love and support. They do not only help small businesses but also help our communities and local hunters. They partner with other Inuit/Indigenous artists and craftsmen, giving us the opportunity to support them as well.”
Medicine Through Laughter
Another influencer taking part in this campaign is Eagle Blackbird, who has a following of about 417,000.
“I wanted to be a part of this [campaign] because it was something to do with culture and the tradition of seal fur,” says Blackbird, the Walpole Island First Nation resident. “It interested me because I didn’t know much about it and now I’m learning.”
@itzeaglee #ad Look deadly and traditional at the same time✨ #ProudlyIndigenous #native #SealSkin #SustainableFashion #ShopLocal #nativeamerican ♬ Pieces – Danilo Stankovic
Blackbird’s social media posts revolve around using humour as a form of medicine. Many of Blackbird’s posts poke fun of the way colonizers sometimes view Indigenous people, while also teaching people about where he comes from. Blackbird will wear Bambi’s boxer sealskin mitts and Taalrumiq’s sealskin solidarity pin, made with glass seed and accent beaded edging along with reclaimed orange suede backing.
“Originally created for the Strong People, Strong Communities Indigenous Mural Art Project community workshops, sealskin solidarity heart pins are a piece that everyone of any background can wear as a visual symbol of love and support for our Indigenous communities in light of children’s graves being recovered at various residential schools. A conversation piece, a symbol of love and a modern, accessible Inuit design,” reads the pin’s description.
Blackbird says he is proud to show the items off. “I think it’s significant to me because it’s orange and orange represents the ‘Every Child Matters’ movement. I think it’s a great pin to use, especially when it’s made out of seal fur, making it 10 times better.”
The collaboration is more than just an opportunity for PIC&D designers to have their work showcased on a larger scale. It’s also about a partnership between Indigenous cultures, where influencers and artists across Canada support and lift each other up.
More on some of the other social influencers involved
Nikita Elyse Kahpeaysewat
Nikita Elyse Kahpeaysewat has many talents that have helped her gain thousands of followers on social media. From being an Environmental science student, an Indigenous researcher, model and Powwow Dancer, Kahpeaysewat is able to share her culture and educate others online. Her view is that Indigenous ways of knowing and western science are equally valid knowledge sources and both can be used to preserve and protect the environment.
The Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) woman will be working together with artists Erica Lugt, Inuk 360, Resilient Inuk Creations, Taalrumiq, and Cheryl Fennell to promote their work. Some of those pieces she will be showcasing include seal tassel earrings, large double-sided seal earrings with matching seal cuffs, a red dress sealskin pin, natural sealskin earrings, and a sealskin snap bracelet.
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Sila first became known for her work on the TV series The Twilight Zone, but has since grown a following of more than half a million on her Instagram and Tiktok. She also specializes in stunts for film and TV and is a hoop dancer. She was recently voted Canadian Hoop Dancer of the Year. On top of all that, she is the owner of RedPath Talent Inc, an Indigenous talent agency and management company named after the Indigenous phrase “walking the red road,” which is known as walking a path dedicated to sobriety, health and wellness. Her social channels aim to build a platform that inspires others and raises awareness about Indigenous rights and climate issues. Through this campaign, Sila will don Red sealskin deadly dangles by Resilient Inuk Creations, signature seal fox earrings by April Allen, red sealskin silver fox moosehide dangles as well as grey sealskin V mittens with silver fox fur trim by Taalrumiq and natural sealskin earrings by Cheryl Fennell.
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