New Fire

Lisa Charleyboy: a tough life lesson in a university class

I have a lifelong love of education and the classroom, but the lessons I've learned aren't always easy.

I've spent a lot of time in school and have a lifelong love of education and the classroom. But the lessons I've learned aren't always easy. 

It was my first year in university and I was young, impressionable and wanting to do well at my foray into fashion. I was given a fashion design assignment where I was to create three different hats using a point of inspiration. Immediately I wanted to incorporate Northwest Coast design into my mini-collection.

So I went to the library and pored over books, wanting to reference Northwest Coast design while also creating something modern. I was so excited to create something for my university class that was incorporating First Nations culture into my work.

This was the first time I've ever done this in my life. Even in elementary school my creative writing was inspired by pirates or goldfish, never from cultural inspiration.

I worked hard on my research, the designs, and the illustrations... and was eager to get feedback from my professor, who would give his critique in front of the class.

He pulled mine out and handed it to me with disregard - as if he was holding a used tissue - and said pointedly "THIS is not fashion."

My heart sunk and I felt ashamed. I quickly grabbed my illustration and hid it. I told myself that I would never do that again and would just stick to the tried and true fashion points of inspiration... and would NEVER use First Nations culture in my work again. The risk was too great, the reception was icy cold, and it hurt my heart too much. 

It was years later, after I transferred to another university and switched majors from fashion to writing, when I finally began to explore my culture in school. It wasn't an easy step. It only happened after nudging and gentle guidance from my Writing TA who let me know that it was a culturally safe place to explore my heritage and identity.

It began with an exploratory essay analyzing Pocahontas with a critical lens, and since then... I've never stopped.