November 21, 2012

University of Michigan Event Recap

Last weekend I was honored with the great opportunity to visit the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and host the first-ever Beyond Buckskin street style fashion show.

The NASA and MESA groups flew me out to put on this event, and in addition I also guest lectured for a class and spoke about telling stories through our clothing, or Native American Adornment: Wearing the Story. The students had great questions and it was such an amazing feeling to be back in the classroom sharing this material that I love so much and think is so important. So, I want to send a huge thank you to Margaret Noori for inviting me into her classroom. That evening I had dinner with the members of NASA, and it was great to have that one-on-one time to talk with them about the fashion event the next night.

It was this moment that I got really excited about the fashion show – I mean, I was excited before, but to see them really claim ownership of this event was inspiring to me. They planned it themselves, they took the initiative, they worked extra hours, they did all the coordinating, and I was just really impressed hearing them talk about their ideas for the show and for styling the clothes. I just got a blast of inspiration in that moment.

The next day, I was invited to speak at a lunch event, which is this really cool program that the university puts on once a month with great food and guest speakers. There was a crew of students there who let me speak for an hour and half (woops!) about who I am and what I do and why this stuff is significant. They were a great audience, it was a cozy and intimate environment, and they had some really great questions about Native appropriations, such as dressing up as a Pocahottie for Halloween. They were very open and receptive to what I was saying even though many of them were non-Native and weren’t aware of all these issues.

And then, we got ready for the main event, the fashion show. I showed up at 6pm with the clothing – the students had just finished up with their hair and make-up (provided by Amanda Champagne).

We got the clothes on and styled by 7pm and then hit the runway to practice a few rounds for a half hour behind the scenes, getting the sound right (of course we had A Tribe Called Red playing – which was perfect) before the folks started showing up around 8pm. But we took tons of photos backstage (above and below).

We started on time at 8:30 and I spoke about Beyond Buckskin, the Boutique, and what we’re trying to accomplish through these venues. The audience was amazing, we had a packed house, and it was such a great feeling to have the room full of such positive energy – again, it was just so inspiring.

Then we kicked off the fashion show (hosted by Chatoris Jones) and the students faces were glowing, you could see their confidence, you could see their pride, their personalities, their creativity, their individual styles, in each of their walks. They are our future leaders – you could just tell in how they carry themselves.

In addition to bringing along Boutique items, I also brought along items from my personal collection of Native fashion. It’s a really cool thing to look at these garments and know that they were made by Native American designers. This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve had access to garments that reflect back to my identity as a Native female living in 2012, and it’s a reassuring feeling to know that you can be proud of who you are, you can flaunt who you are, and you have designers who are going to help you accomplish that.

For hundreds of years we have been at the receiving end of government policies of forced assimilation including what we wear. We have been closely surveillanced. And now to be able to take back our right to wear whatever we want, and to wear our identities on our sleeves proudly makes the present a really exciting time.

It’s also an honor to be able to share that with non-Native people. It’s important because I always advocate for collaborations and working together because that is how we learn about each other as individuals, but we also get to learn more about where we all come from. We get to break past stereotypes, we get to break past preconceived notions and misconceptions that we have about each other. I really think this is a pathway for growth. The students on the runway were not all Native American, because while it’s important to promote Native models, it is also important to include non-Native models because we need to continue to create that bridge.

Click here to see the fashion show images!

All images courtesy of Brita Brookes, an amazing photographer and an amazing person!