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Photo: Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
Many indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. Others use it as a chance to raise consciousness about American mythologies or just to be with extended family and give thanks.

The other day, I was asking my British neighbors if they celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving is about being grateful for freedom from Britain. Why would they? They said they love the holiday and always invite a lot of expat Brits living in the area to eat turkey with them.

Just as language evolves and individuals use words in their own ways, so do customs. At Smithsonian magazine I recently learned that among indigenous Americans there are as many attitudes toward Thanksgiving as there are unique individuals.

Read Dennis Zotigh’s great piece “Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”

“In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

“The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like. …

“When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. … While I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.”

Here, for adult readers, Zotigh goes into the tragedy, which I hope you’ll make time to read. Next, he quotes an array of opinions of actual Native Americans, noting, for example, that “the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. …

“I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years, beginning with the most recent: …

“Exeter, California: ‘Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about.

” ‘I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions — family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people.’

“Sevierville, Tennessee: ‘Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!’

“San Antonio, Texas: ‘Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. …

“Edmonton, Alberta: ‘We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: ‘We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones’ being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , “Do you think we should have helped them?” There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.

“Hydro, Oklahoma: ‘Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.’ …

“Santa Fe, New Mexico: ‘My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.’ …

“For more on Thanksgiving, see the 2017 post Everyone’s history matters. The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known.”

Read more of the fascinating comments at Smithsonian, here. It’s a real lesson in not painting any community with one brush. When we say, “Native Americans think [fill in the blank],” we need to remind ourselves that any group of people is full of unique individuals with individual thoughts.

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Teenage indigenous rights activist Tokata Iron Eyes stands beside Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in the high school gym in Fort Yates, N.D., on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. (Fun to see Greta’s father came, too!)

The teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is getting a lot of flack these days from vested interests terrified of her influence, but she shoulders on as new and old climate activists give her encouragement. In this story, indigenous people recognize a girl after their own hearts.

Natasha Rausch Forum News Service reports, “Nearly 500 Indigenous students stood in a circle surrounding two 16-year-old climate activists and their fathers Tuesday morning, Oct. 8, in the Standing Rock High School gym.

“A medicine man blessed the girls — Tokata Iron Eyes and Greta Thunberg — in what’s known as a smudging ceremony. Then, a circle of men played the drum as everyone in the gym slowly turned to face the four sacred directions.

“One of the drummers, Hans Young Bird Bradley, of the Standing Rock Environmental Protection Agency, said the tribe has ‘no choice but to support them, hold them up’ on their mission to spread awareness about climate change.

“ ‘We shouldn’t leave it on the back of two little girls to do this,’ he said. ‘It’s too much weight to carry for them. It should be all of us doing our part.’

“Thunberg … told the crowd of Indigenous students she was honored to be speaking at ‘this symbolic place of resistance’ where just three years earlier thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Though the line was eventually installed, the tribe has continued to fight it in court as others from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation have built on momentum from the protest to create a more sustainable future.

“Thunberg met Tokata Iron Eyes — one of the Standing Rock citizens who helped garner support for the Dakota Access oil pipeline protests in 2016 through the Rezpect Our Water campaign — at a September event at George Washington University. …

To see two teenagers take the stage in the Standing Rock High School gym, ‘it’s inspirational,’ said 13-year-old Chante Baker, who sat in the bleachers with her classmates. …

” ‘It took two youth to get us all together,’ said Cody Two Bears, the head of nonprofit Indigenized Energy which opened a solar farm last month near the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. … We all need clean water and clean air and a safe place to call home. As Indigenous people, our culture and way of life is inherently tied to the environment.’

“Tyrel Iron Eyes, a 23-year-old from Standing Rock, said he’s proud of his cousin Tokata, and of Thunberg for getting people to listen to them.

” ‘They inspire,’ he said. ‘And at the end of the day that’s what we need is people to be inspired to make changes in their lives.’

“[Thunberg said,] ‘We need local solutions to this global problem, and of course global solutions as well.’ …

“In a closing ceremony, former Standing Rock Chairman Jay Taken Alive gifted Thunberg with a Lakota name: Maphiyata echiyatan hin win, meaning ‘woman who came from the heavens.’

“ ‘Only somebody like that can wake up the world,’ he said. “We stand with you. We appreciate you. We love you as a relative.’ ” More at the Billings Gazette, here.

And while we’re on the subject of sustainability influencers, you can see they’re having an effect in Europe, where this past summer increasing numbers of people decided to take the train instead of flying. Read about that at the Guardian, here.

By the way, does anyone know how Greta is getting home? She can’t very well take an wind-powered yacht across the Atlantic in winter.

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Photo: Lex Talamo
Houma artist Lora Ann Chaisson works on palmetto stitch basketry at the Native American Crafts day at Northwestern University. Crafts using palmetto are threatened by climate change.

A recent interview conducted by Tegan Wendland on National Public Radio (NPR) provided new-to-me information on how climate change is jeopardizing an indigenous culture.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro introduced the story thus: “When storms like Hurricane Barry batter Louisiana’s coast and water replaces marshland, people move away. And that puts at risk a unique cultural mix — Europeans, Africans and Native Americans all living off Louisiana’s land and water. As Tegan Wendland of member station WWNO reports, the state is trying to preserve some of their traditions before they disappear.

“WENDLAND: Janie Luster walks through crunchy oak leaves in the humid Louisiana air to a stand of green palmetto in the shade. She reaches her arm deep down into the stems and starts hacking.

“JANIE LUSTER: Takes a sharp knife, pointed knife. And this is where you have to be careful, a little spider there. There’s also ants.

“WENDLAND: She pulls out a stem and unfolds it like a giant fan. … We’re in Houma, about an hour southwest of New Orleans. Luster will dry the leaves out and tear them into strips and use them to weave baskets — not just any basket — the Native American Houma half-hitch.

“LUSTER: We were the only tribe in the whole country to make this type of basket.

“WENDLAND: The art of the half-hitch has already been lost once before, generations ago, when tribal members were forced to assimilate. But Luster researched it and brought it back in the ’90s. Today, she’s brought a big stack of dried palmetto into a classroom in the offices of the United Houma Nation, where about 15 students of all ages are gathered around a table. … It’s a laborious process. It can take several days just to weave one basket. Pretty much everyone’s struggling. But 15-year-old Rhett Williams’ fingers dart fast. … He’s attended a few of these classes. Now his mom gets mad when she catches him weaving instead of doing his homework.

“RHETT: Growing up, you know, you’re not in touch with your elders. Now that I’m getting in more within the tribe and, like, learning culture and tradition, I’ve realized, like, I was, like, deprived of, like, the true tradition and culture.

“WENDLAND: Many in Williams’ family have moved north over the years, joining the exodus after every devastating coastal storm. Some areas have lost more than 40 percent of their population over the past several decades. Hurricanes and saltwater intrusion from rising seas are also killing off the palmetto and other plants sacred to the Houma. That worries Maida Owens, director of the Louisiana Folklife Program.

“MAIDA OWENS: When people move, you know, some things get left behind. And one of the things that frequently is left behind is something that relies on natural materials. … If it doesn’t move with the people, then the tradition may not continue.

“WENDLAND: The state estimates that thousands more will have to migrate as the coastal erodes. But Owens is happy to see that some young people, like Rhett Williams, are embracing these folk traditions.”

More at NPR here and at the Shreveport Times, here.

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Photo: WGBH Educational Foundation
In the PBS program
Molly of Denali, Alaska Native Molly Mabray helps her mom run a trading post in an Alaskan village.

In the old days, TV shows meant to educate children tended to be dry and clunky. Sesame Street began to move the bar, and now my grandkids and other children are learning a lot from shows that are fun, like Wild Kratts and the Octonauts. They amaze me with the facts they produce to correct my misperceptions about nature.

Now they are giving a thumbs up to a new show about indigenous people in Alaska.

Mandalit del Barco wrote about it at National Public Radio (NPR), “For decades, animated children’s stories included negative stereotypes of Indigenous people. …

“More recently, Disney and Pixar got kudos for more authentic representations of Native people in the films Moana and Coco. Now, TV networks and streaming services are reaching children with realistic portrayals on the small screen — where they consume most of their media.

“The new PBS show Molly of Denali is the first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native lead character. She’s 10 years old; her heritage is Gwich’in, Koyukon and Dena’ina Athabascan. She lives in the fictional village of Qyah, population 94. She goes fishing and hunting, and also looks up information on the Internet and on her smartphone.

“Molly is computer-savvy,’ says the show’s creative producer, Princess Daazhraii Johnson. ‘I think it’s really important for us to show that, because we are modern, living people that are not relegated to the past. That stereotype, that romanticized notion of who we are as Native people, is rampant.’

“Johnson says when she travels, she still meets people who assume all Alaskans live in igloos and are Eskimos — ‘which isn’t a term that people really even use anymore up here,’ she says. ‘We have 229 federally recognized tribes in Alaska; we have 20 officially recognized Alaska Native languages here. We are so diverse and dynamic.’ …

“In one episode, Molly learns that her grandfather stopped drumming and singing as a child when he was taken away to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. ‘At the school we weren’t allowed to sing the songs from our people,’ an elder tells her. ‘We were made to feel bad about who we were.’

“Johnson says this storyline really happened to one of the elders on the show’s advisory board. It’s a kid’s show, so it has a happy ending: Molly and her grandfather sing together.

” ‘We’re just over the moon about Molly of Denali, because this is exactly the type of thing that can really began to shift perceptions in this country,’ [Crystal Echo Hawk, CEO of the media watchdog group IllumiNative] says.

“Echo Hawk says that for years, Hollywood didn’t produce stories about or by Native people because it didn’t think a market existed for them. But that, she says, was shortsighted. Her organization polled more than 13,000 Americans, and found that nearly 80% of them said they want to learn more about Native peoples. …

“For several decades, the Australian and Canadian Broadcasting Corporations have spotlighted shows by and about their indigenous populations. Now, Netflix is partnering with three Indigenous cultural organizations to develop the next generation of First Nation creators across Canada.

“And in the U.S. and in Latin America, Netflix is running the animated film Pachamama. The story centers on a 10-year-old boy in an Andean village who dreams of becoming a shaman. His people suffer under both the Spanish conquest and the Incan Empire.

” ‘It’s told from the point of view of the Indigenous people,’ says Juan Antin, who wrote and directed the film. … Antin, who is from Argentina, says he was inspired by his travels with his anthropologist wife in Bolivia and Peru. ‘There, I fell in love with the culture of Pachamama, which is how the indigenous people call Mother Earth, having respect, love to the Earth,’ he says.

“The Cartoon Network series Victor and Valentino features two half-brothers in a fictitious Mesoamerican village, exploring myths that come to life. For example, they follow the dog Achi into the land of the dead, where they encounter a chupacabra and other legends.

“Animator Diego Molano, whose heritage is Mexican, Colombian and Cuban, … says it’s about time networks began showing cartoons with Indigenous characters and themes. He just hopes it’s not just a fad.”

More at NPR, here, and at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo: Matt Barnes
Jeremy Dutcher is a First Nations tenor and pianist who is getting a lot of attention in Canada and beyond.

Bit by bit we’re all learning more about the people around us, people who may have very different lives and who in the past we knew nothing about. Even those we thought we knew well sometimes have lives that are veiled to us, as I learned this summer when our niece sent me her story, a heartbreaking tale of a childhood that I had only perceived on the surface. You just can’t know what is going on behind someone’s eyes.

Among the kinds of people I am learning more about are indigenous people, both in the United States and elsewhere. This story is about a young tenor who belongs to a Canadian tribe.

Jeff Kaliss writes at San Francisco Classical Voice, “Interviews with Jeremy Dutcher figure among the new demands on a Canadian First Nations (indigenous) singer-pianist who’s risen rapidly to international attention. The 28-year-old Toronto resident needs now and then to take a break from the clamor, to return to something like the pastoral pace of his raising in the Maritime province of New Brunswick, as a member of the Wolastoqiyik [pronounced Wuh-last-o-key-yik] tribe.

“I first witnessed Dutcher a year ago, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, performing on piano and singing in his tribe’s native Wolastoq language (the word denotes ‘the beautiful river’; renamed by the colonizers of New Brunswick as the St. John), in the basement of a church, a beautiful historical landmark. He hadn’t yet won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, nor its Grammy-equivalent Juno Awards. Both of these wins would recognize his debut self-produced album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, translated as Songs of the People of the Beautiful River. …

“Dutcher incorporates in his live and recorded music an unusual and affecting act of legacy, playing transcribed wax recordings from 1911 by an early anthropologist of a tribal elder singing and speaking, and following the melodies with his own heldentenor voice and mellifluous keyboard compositions. The method and quality of his approach derive from his training, including classical voice with Marcia Swanston at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“Two semesters before completing his music degree, Dutcher enrolled in a class in Social Anthropology, and decided to stick around Dalhousie for an additional year, completing a second major and an honors thesis on the subject of Traditional Music in a Contemporary Moment: Musical Pan-Indigeneity as Revitalization in the Wabanaki Region. The region is a confederacy of five indigenous nations including the Wolastoq and extending across the current provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, and the state of Maine. The thesis title took the form of a mission statement for Dutcher, who was led to the wax recordings by a living tribal elder, sweat lodge keeper, and First Nations ambassador, Maggie Paul.

“ ‘I made my way to Ottawa [the site of the Canadian Museum of History] and went down into the basement archives there and threw on some headphones and started a journey,’ Dutcher recalled for an NPR presentation last year.

“ ‘To not just hear the songs, but also to hear the background noise and to hear them laughing and telling jokes — there was a sense of entering into that space through these voices. And that was something that changed my life.’

“The Dalhousie anthropology faculty have declared in writing their admiration for where their alumnus has taken his education and his life. … ‘Dutcher honors intergenerational connections, his voice singing on with the voices of his elders … It disrupts widespread expectations of indigenous music as a thing of the past, and shows instead how it lives in the present, fully capable of working and remixing in contemporary idioms. This has a decolonizing effect, in that it unsettles public conceptions that all too often primordialize and essentialize indigenous art forms.’ ”

I love the idea of a decolonizing effect. I never thought about that — about not only promoting healthier relations between indigenous people and others going forward but actually starting to undo harm that was done in the past. How great if we could apply that idea to all kinds of wrongs the world has seen!

More at San Francisco Classical Voice, here.

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Photo: Portland (Maine) Museum of Art
The quilts of artist Gina Adams tell the tale of broken treaties.

Lately, I’ve been reading books that have given me a deeper, more disturbing understanding of American history. Of course I knew about slavery and broken Indian treaties and adventurism abroad, but I tended to slink away from knowing too many details. You can hide only so long. Two books I would recommend are the novel Underground Railroad and the history Ramp Hollow.

Artist Gina Adams found her metier in quilts about broken treaties. There are no shortage of those, she says. This article by Indian County Today recounts the evolution of her work “Broken Treaties Quilts.”

“Gina Adams’ journey to becoming a political artist began as she probed deeper into her Native roots. Trained as a painter and printmaker, Gina Adams made apolitical art for many years. …

“While studying the effects of post-Colonial trauma and assimilation at the University of Kansas, Adams identified feelings of remorse and grief in her own life, stemming from her Ojibwe-Lakota grandfather’s forced boarding at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Her art began to change.

“ ‘I realized how powerful it was to be able to speak about all of those feelings,’ said Adams, who lives in Longmont, Colorado. …

“ ‘Broken Treaties Quilts,’ involves sewing text from Indian treaties onto antique quilts. … Sewing the words of injustice, letter by letter, onto objects of comfort and beauty represents the turmoil that Indians have suffered. …

“Adams, 52, recently finished quilts about both the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties, which she made in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff at Standing Rock. She has made 18 quilts so far, and shown them from Maine to the Midwest. Wherever she shows her work, she makes a new quilt that’s relevant to the treaty history of that geographic area.

Her goal is to create a quilt for every U.S. state.

“There’s no shortage of broken treaties, she said, and all were populated with twisting, confusing language that purposefully misled people and subjected the treaties to misunderstanding and different interpretations.

“Adams has spent most of the past three years reading the treaties, word for word.

” ‘In cutting up these letters and reading and re-reading these treaties, you begin to realize how the language was meant to be confusing when they were written. They are still confusing today. They’re very duplicitous in their meaning,’ she said. ‘You can understand why the misunderstandings happened. …

“In Native cultures, the quilt transcends modern timekeeping. It’s been around forever, serving as a source of warmth and comfort, as well as a feeling of home and family. Quilting is also thoroughly American, she notes, and both the quilt and quilting bees symbolize community and the idea of working together. …

“Adams begins with antique quilts that she finds at flea markets and elsewhere. Many people also give them to her. She prefers quilts that are a century old or older, so they reflect the general vintage of the treaties she represents. …

“The process of making the quilts is time-consuming and labor intensive, and enjoyable, Adams said.

“ ‘It’s very contemplative. It’s very mindful,’ she said. ‘I so look forward to every single aspect of it, even when I am doing the detailed stitching on the quilt. It’s a really focused time. I am lost in my thoughts and just focusing on the work itself. I find it to be so rewarding.’

“Adams … descended from indigenous and colonial Americans. Her grandfather was Ojibwe and Lakota, and Adams has always identified with her Native roots. ‘I remember being 3 and 4 years old and going on hikes with my grandfather. He would talk to me and introduce me to plants and animals and things in nature in the Ojibwe language,’ she said. ‘He would tell me everything in Ojibwe and then translate it. It was a wonderful connecting point that stuck in my heart and soul and has been there my whole entire life.’

“Adams, who is not an enrolled tribal member, plans to take Ojibwe language classes this fall, to deepen her cultural immersion.”

Read about Adams’s quilting process here.

Hat tip: @WomensArt1 on twitter.

 

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Photo: Minot Daily News
Norma Baker-Flying Horse is owner of Red Berry Woman, a fashion designing business that was accepted into Paris Fashion Week.

Yesterday I mentioned that APiermanSister was a blogger whose writing I admired. She says she is shy, but as far as I can tell, one of her personal characteristics is fearlessness.

As a regular visitor to and connoisseur of Paris, she had always wanted to attend Fashion Week. In a recent post, she describes how she wrangled an invitation — finding a publication back in the US that would take an article and help to justify her admission to the show as a writer.

This is from Alison’s February Minot Daily News report on designer Red Berry Woman, an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara (MHA) Nation and member of the Dakota Sioux and Assiniboine tribes.

“Norma Baker-Flying Horse has been having a whirlwind of fashion success.

“ ‘I recently had a dress walk the red carpet at the Grammy’s earlier this month and I’m also preparing to show in France,’ said Baker-Flying Horse of Mandaree, Oklahoma.

“Baker-Flying Horse said she will be the only Native American who will be showing in a show for the opening of Paris Fashion Week. …

“Baker-Flying Horse’s fashion line, Red Berry Woman, incorporates Native American traditional garment styles into contemporary couture garments for both men and women. She also creates different types of Native American traditional-style garments,’ according to her Red Berry Woman website at redberrywoman.com. …

“Baker-Flying Horse also was an invited designer for the international fashion showing in Vancouver, British Columbia, during Vancouver Fashion Week this past September.

“Another event in past months includes being the designer for a fashion show in Cornwall, Ontario, where actor Adam Beach was a guest. His wife, Summer, was Baker-Flying Horse’s guest runway model. One of Baker-Flying Horse’s creations also was worn by Alice Brownotter, an activist from the Standing Rock Reservation, for an event held by actress Jane Fonda who invited young people to participate who have had leadership rolls in their community. …

“Last March Baker-Flying Horse had the special honor of having one of her fashion designs worn at the Academy Awards show, the Oscars. She was the first contemporary Native American fashion designer to have a gown worn at the Oscars.”

More on Red Berry Woman at the Minot Daily News, here, and at the Smithsonian, here. But the most fun piece to read is Alison’s blog post about crashing Paris Fashion Week, here.

Photo: kfyrtv.com
The 2018 Native American Cultural Celebration closed with a Red Berry Woman Fashion Show.

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