By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Canada’s top Indigenous Fashion Designers were invited to Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity (BCAC) to participate in the first-ever Indigenous Haute Couture Fashion Residency. In total, 10 of Canada’s best and brightest Fashion Designers attended the programs.
Alberta Native News reporter Chevi Rabbit spoke with Yolonda (Loni) Skelton, a textile artist from the Gitxsan Nation and the House of Hax-be-gwoo-txw of the Fireweed Clan.
Skelton’s traditional name is Sug-ii-t Looks and it is the name of her company which means “When the Whales Crest.” Her fashion designs are inspired and created from the traditional oral stories of her late maternal grandmother Lily Jackson (Na-gwa).
The BCAC program is delivered on campus, led by faculty lead D’Arcy Moses with the support of co-faculty member Christine Gerke, and guest faculty, Suzan Marie and Lucy Anne Yakelaya, expert traditional beadwork and moose hair tufters. Program faculty support the participants’ exploration and research into Indigenous Haute Couture through their Indigenous lens.
The three-week Indigenous Haute Couture Fashion Residency offered Indigenous textile-based artists with traditional and contemporary practices the opportunity to develop their design and pattern development skills, traditional, and digital embellishments all at the haute couture level.
Yolonda is a self-taught designer who has been in the fashion industry since 2017. She sees her experience at the BCAC as the evolution of her skills as an Indigenous Fashion Designer but most of all she cherishes the friendships she made with the other ten Indigenous Designers – each with their own unique Indigenous lens.
“There are ten incredible designers who joined me, and we’re learning from and about each other,” said Yolonda. “Learning new skills …and feeding this creativity.”
“That is what’s so beautiful about it… each of us brings something unique to what we’re doing.”
“It’s so incredible to be in the presence of such talented women and they’re just so generous of heart, from within the same industry,” added Yolonda. “Each of us participates in this resurgence of reclamation of our cultures.”
“It’s just been such a beautiful thing to see how we lift each other up. So, many times there are like crabs in a bucket but here we inspire each other. It’s so special that everybody is here to support, it’s such a safe place to learn.”
Yolonda uses her fashion to teach others about her culture. “I’ve always taken things that I’ve learned from my culture and brought them to school because our kids need to learn all of these different things that our ancestors held onto since time immemorial.”
She explained that through her fashion she is also a storyteller. Her fashion speaks to her heritage and many of the designs tell a story.
“Reconciliation is such a huge part of who I am, finding ways to use reconciliation in a really gentle way where people are educated and become allies,” said Yolonda.
She shared a story on how reconciliation plays into her fashion, where once in a restaurant, a little girl asked about her coat. “She was all excited as I explained to her about the different things that were in my coat, who I was, where it came from, and she was proud to be learning about my culture.
“It’s a form of storytelling through fashion. When you look at what I’ve created over the years they have been my way of storytelling about the blankets.”
On Yolonda’s website she talked about her Blanket Making,
“The blanket “Grandfather Sun” was my first attempt at making a button blanket. At this point I did not know how to create a design. I asked my uncle Gitxsan Artist Robert Jackson if I could use his sun design for my blanket, as I’d had a dream about a woman riding on the back of a killer whale and the sun was shining down on her and smiling.
She said, “My uncle told me the story about “Grandfather Sun” who watched over his people and then told me the story of the kidnapping of Gooch-nach-nes-emgit’s wife by Goe-smess-nech the White Killer Whale. That was the inspiration for my next feature blanket.”
“I kept thinking I need to be able to tell my story to a broader audience or when people ask about my culture have something that I’m able utilize from my fashion.”
She explained, “Our traditional Gitxsan teachings are passed on from our ancestors, the people of The Sky Clan who through their wisdom, time and patience have held onto and passed on traditional knowledge through stories, songs and dances.”
“These teachings have been passed down through the generations since time immemorial, through our oral traditions (Adawaks), so that we would use them wisely and share them with our people, and yours,” said Yolonda.
“The teachings I will be sharing belong to The House of Haxbegwootxw of The Fireweed Clan and are the inspiration for many of my designs,” she added.
“What we learn from these lessons, teaches us wisdom, builds our character and teaches us the true meaning of caring for one another.”
Check out Yolonda’s Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/yolondaskelton/