Heart of the City Festival highlights emerging Indigenous art and fashion in Edmonton

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and his wife Sarbjeet, with fashion designers: Heather Bouchier, Rhonda Johnson and Erin Meetoos. Photo by Chevi Rabbit.

by Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – On December 12, Heart of The City showcased emerging Indigenous talent in the city of Edmonton. The event was well attended by newly elected Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and his wife, Sarbjeet Sohi. Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse was emcee for the evening, which included a deer beef stew for guests by Vee Point of Nék̓em!

Emcee Jodi Stonehouse. Photo by Curtis Cameron Photography.

“I am proud to support Edmonton’s Indigenous community,” stated Mayor Sohi.  “In the new year I hope to do more for Indigenous people living in the city.” He also stated that he aims to invest more into Indigenous art and culture and he emphasized the vital role that Indigenous people play in Edmonton.

Heart of the City Festival Society of Edmonton is a non-profit organization whose mission is “inspiration and opportunity through the arts.” Their vision is to be “one of the most important free music and arts festivals in our city, dedicated to promoting and supporting local, original and emerging artists in the heart of Edmonton.”

Community partners included Mike Siek and Fay Fey Dunaway from Heart of the City’s board, Epcor’s Heart and Soul Fund, The Edmonton Arts Council, McCauley Community League and the venue was provided by the Parkdale Cromdale Community League.

The event was organized by Corinne Demas, who is part of Heart Of The City Music Festival. She said her group was looking to highlight Indigenous fashion and art in Edmonton. The group partnered with Edmonton’s emerging Indigenous talent, art and fashion community to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere for the urban community.

Demas said that the event was The Heart of the City Festival’s first Indigenous Fashion Show, clothing drive and community dinner.

She was able to highlight three emerging fashion designers – Heather Bouchier, Rhonda Johnson and Erin Meetoos.

Heather Bouchier said she has a great relationship with Corinne Demas. “We discussed the event over a campfire and she wanted to do something with Indigenous art. Heart of the City Music festival is usually held in the summer but due to covid -19 they had to change things up,” she explained.

During the show Bouchier featured her up cycling line that incorporates fabric by Indigenous fabric designer Stephanie Gustafson. She described her up cycling line as having been inspired by 90’s grunge and the use of sheer fabric.

“I take inspiration from my Cree culture but I also use western techniques,” said Bouchier.

In speeches given at the event, Bouchier explained that she grew up poor and low-income. “I grew up being told not to waste anything. Growing up I did a lot of thrift shopping and still do to this day – it is part of the inspiration behind up cycling.”

Rhonda Johnson, owner of Acahkos Designs who is originally from Treaty 8 and the community of Cold Lake said she’s been designing most of her life.

“My style is Indigenous Glam,” said Johnson. “I’ve been designing most of my life. I graduated from fashion and design school in 2016.”

She explained, “I am a mother and raising a family while pursuing a career in fashion. After taking some time off during COVID-19, I’m emerging back into the fashion community with a new line.”

She describes her line as infusing traditional Indigenous and contemporary designs. “I use a lot of ribbons with modern indigenous aesthetics.”

Johnson said that “we learn a lot from our culture orally and from our elders but we need to learn professionalism too – such as, our elders can’t teach us how to draft a pattern.”

Erin Meetoos, was the third designer to showcase her work and in an online video provided by Heart of the City, she said, “I’ve been designing custom powwow regalia for the past fourteen years…but this was my first fashion show and I was excited and very nervous.”

Meetoos explained that her regalia designs are wearable and for Indigenous women; nothing too high-end but pieces you can wear for galas or events.”

The event also included Indigenous beauty businesses such as “Beauty by Jacqueline” owned by Jacqueline Buffalo.

“I applied lashes, touched up brows and make-up for the models,” said Buffalo. “I agreed to come and help because I am friends with the designers and my business is fairly new so I’m willing to get out there and help promote business.”

It’s such an amazing experience to be a part of the indigenous fashion community, added Buffalo. “I absolutely love the people I have met throughout the years. Without them it would be hard to continue to do what I love, which is to be creative.”

Darrell Brertton, a prominent Indigenous powwow dancer and entrepreneur who modeled at the show said, “It was such good medicine! Loved the energy from the models to the designers to even our special guest the mayor of the city of Edmonton! It’s an honour to model these amazing pieces because there is no doubt in my mind these designers will be well known across turtle island.”



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