Former foster kids reclaim Indigenous culture through fashion
A group of B.C. youth is creating clothing for an upcoming runway show in Australia
A group of Indigenous youth from British Columbia is taking their high-fashion designs down under.
The ten youth, who were all formerly in the foster care system, are creating clothing that reflects their roots and will travel to Australia this summer for a runway presentation at the University of Sydney.
The project is spearheaded by the husband-and-wife design duo Linda Lavallee and Patrick Stewart of Cree-Nisga'a Clothing. With financial support from Lu'ma Native Housing's Youth mentorship program in Vancouver, they are helping youth, aged 20 to 26, reclaim their culture by designing clothes that showcase it.
'I never really got the chance until now'
Riley Ballentyne entered the foster care system when he was six years old after he asked a family friend to call child protection services and remove him and his little brother due to his parents drinking. Ballentyne stayed in care for 11 years and bounced between many homes.
Now that Ballentyne has aged out of foster care, he is honouring his Cree and Anshinaabe ancestry by working with Lavallee and Stewart to craft an Anshinaabe dancing apron reminiscent of regalia he remembers seeing at a powwow.
"I never really got the chance until now," he said.
'I grew up being ashamed'
Krystal Cheena is also part of the couture-contingent that is getting ready for the runway.
She spoke to Sterritt about how residential school kept her grandparents from knowing their culture, and as a result, her own parents did not have the knowledge to share with her.
"I grew up being ashamed of being Indigenous," said Cheena, who hid her Gitxsan and Cree ancestry from her school classmates. Cheena is changing her narrative now by participating in this project.
Cheena hopes the fashion show will spread awareness and teach people about her culture "in a really fun way."
Carlos Santiago, from the Nisga'a nation, is also excited to show off the sweater emblazoned with an eagle that he is making to honour his mother's heritage.
Santiago's mother passed away when he was "really young" and that's when he entered foster care.
"I really wanted to do this design because I know my mom was a part of the Eagle clan and so am I," said Santiago.
The designers will showcase their creations at an Indigenous conference in New South Wales during the first week of July.
Until then, the group has some sewing to do.
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