Native Fashion: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This week Trailbreakers looks at how art is shaking up Indian country! Corrine Hunt of Komoyue and Tlingit heritage is an artist making waves, both positive and negative ones. She created the wavy medals for the Vancouver Olympics, earning both kudos and compliments.  Hunt is on the front lines of meshing the traditional with the modern, like her commercial line of eye glasses.

Trailbreakers asked Toronto blogger Lisa Charleyboy to look at other examples of where tradition meets modern. And it's not all good, in fact there is also bad and ugly. Forgive us for that one.

Here's Lisa:

It only takes a simple stroll down Queen Street West, the heart of hipster fashion in Toronto, to see how much Native imagery has, once again, infiltrated fashion consciousness. We've all been watching it slowly integrate itself into the latest trends starting with Pendleton designs, southwest patterns, feathers, to mukluks and moccasins.

Manitobah Mukluks at Lavish & Squalor 220.jpgMukluks historically come from Indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle but are seen stomping sidewalks all over North America. Thankfully we have Manitobah Mukluks, a M├ętis owned company, who produce dreamy designs. Not only are they authentic, they are also made in Canada and the company hires Aboriginal people so you can feel good about purchasing their products.

Moccasin at Soft Moc 220.jpgOn the other side of the fashion spectrum, we have the very inauthentic selections that are available at the Canadian retailer Soft Moc. The "mukluks" and moccasins found here not only feature poorly executed beadwork, they are also outsourced and made in China. They are neither First Nations, nor Canadian.

Dreamcatchers are one of the most overusedDreamcatcher Earrings by Hayley Daneen 220.jpg symbols of Native culture, making appearances on t-shirts, rearview mirrors, and made their way onto earlobes. What is particularly visually offensive about the use of the dreamcatcher is when it's taken out of context and executed poorly with basic beads. I get the desire to have feather earrings, it's been a pretty hot item for a while now, but why not support a Native designer like Turquoise Soul who creates gorgeous pieces sans faux dreamcatcher?

When I came across these little leather pouches by Lara Vincent I was actually filled with delight. What a marvelous concept - fashion-forward, leather pouches that one could wear every single day out and about wandering in the city. Sure it has a Native-esque feel reminiscent to medicine bags but it's clearly more of a fashion statement than anything else. The second version, the Anoki design, I was less into as it was a clear New Age attempt at re-creating a medicine bag, rather than just being inspired. I would be embarrassed to wear something that blatant of a rip off. It would be awesome if a First Nations designer were to create some pretty pouches that one could wear simply to a party rather than to a pow wow.

Commodification and commercialization of Native culture is not new, and has been happening since the first point of contact. Daniel Francis, author of The Imaginary Indian: The image of the Indian in Canadian Culture says that the fascination has to do with non-Native people try to "establish a relationship with a country that pre-dates their arrival and validates their occupation of the land," but I highly doubt that any diva donning dreamcatcher earrings would agree with that. After all, it is supposed to be "just fashion."

Lisa Charleyboy is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her blog, Urban Native Girl Stuff, covers fashion, film, beauty, and pop-culture ~ all with an Indigenous twist.
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Lisa Charleyboy (Nadya Kwandibens)

This content is provided by Lisa Charleyboy. The views expressed do not express the views of CBC. CBC is not responsible for this content.

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