Inuit fashion featured for the first time at Indigenius show in Ottawa

The show started in 2013, but until organizers reached out to fashion designer Martha Kyak, Inuit designers had not participated.

2 Inuit designers and a musical act appeared in this year's show

Justin Holness speaks to the audience during the finale of the Indigenius show. (Tracey Lynne/Indigenius)

Inuit fashion was featured for the first time at the Indigenius Art, Music and Fashion show in Ottawa this weekend.

The show, which started in 2013, aims to provide a learning experience and showcase for Ottawa's Indigenous youth interested in the arts.

But until organizers reached out to fashion designer Martha Kyak, Inuit designers had not participated.

"We are part of the Indigenous people in Canada and we should be included," Kyak said. "So every time I hear about these things I am going to contact Inuit and get them involved as much as I can." 
Martha Kyak presented her clothing designs at the fourth Indigenius Art, Music and Fashion Show. (Tracey Lynne/Indigenius)

For the show's fourth iteration, she reached out to her contacts and in the end, this year's event included three Inuit performances.

A musical act from students from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college opened the show, while Kyak and another Inuk designer presented their clothes.

"Ottawa is one of the highest Inuk populations per capita, so we're fortunate to have them included in the event," said Justin Holness, the organizer of Indigenius.

They performed for a sold-out audience of 500 at the Canadian Museum of History on April 15.

'Indigenizing' Canada's 150th anniversary

Holness said the event took the opportunity of Canada's 150th anniversary to "indigenize" the country.

"We want to make sure that we're not celebrating 150 years of colonization," he said.

"There's a lot of push back within the Indigenous community about the celebration, so instead of doing some kind of protest, something negative, we want to propose a solution."  
Seven of Martha Kyak's students walked the catwalk in her original designs at the Indigenius show. (Tracey Lynne/Indigenius)

Before the show, organizers recorded each participant answering what "indigenizing" Canada meant to them, then they played those videos to introduce each artist at the event.

Kyak said for her it meant speaking and teaching Inuktitut.

She teaches Inuktitut, Inuit history and a parka-making class at Nunavut Sivuniksavut college in Ottawa.

'Anybody can wear these'

Sewing is something she grew up watching her mother and sisters do in Pond Inlet, and she started sewing more once she had children.

She has a Facebook page called InukChic, where she sells her original designs, which blend traditional fabrics with modern styles.

Last year, she discovered how to design her own fabric and since then she has been incorporating prints of traditional Inuit knives called ulus, Arctic flowers, and Eskimo tags into her work. 

In the show, her models wore a mix of these prints, traditional parkas, and modern sealskin tops.

A model wears a sealskin and lace top as part of Martha Kyak's fashion show. (Tracey Lynne/Indigenius)
"I wanted to do a different variety of outfits and I wanted to also have a variety of people modelling, not just Inuit."

Seven of her models were her students, but in total 12 people modelled for her.

"Anybody can wear these, not just Inuit — I wanted that message to go out," she said.

She will be selling her clothes online, after she takes a quick break from sewing.

She says she sewed most of her evenings and weekends since she agreed to do the show in October.

Proceeds from the Indigenius tickets will go to Holness's company Un1ty Entertainment to help fund training at the Tribe musical studio and an urban Indigenous scholarship to support a student's transition from high school to university or college.