A group of Indigenous fashion designers and models were invited to the prestigious New York Fashion Week to show the world a sample of First Nations, Inuit and Metis culture.
“Going to New York Fashion Week, for Indigenous Fashion Week, was absolutely exciting. It was life-changing,” explained model Brittany Gadwa.
Single mother and social worker living in Elk Point, Alta. modeled at the hiTechMODA show, representing her Kehewin Cree Nation background.
“Backstage I was shaking. I was shaking in my heels. It was absolutely invigorating.”
Gadwa said she shed many tears during the journey.
“As a child I dealt with suicidal thoughts because I was bullied a lot. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know my worth. For me, going to New York was a great healing experience.”
Her outfit was designed by another Albertan: Doneese Bull-Buffalo of the Louis Bull tribe.
The ribbon skirt maker and bead worker put together 10 new outfits for the show, inspired by something she missed during the pandemic.
“Because of COVID, we didn’t have to, so I wanted my skirts to be bright and colorful — just like the regalia.”
After hitting the runway, the Canadian contingent paid a little visit.
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“We went to Times Square for a photo shoot and everyone was complimenting my models wearing my designs,” Bull-Buffalo said.
The experience gave her more confidence and motivation to continue with her designs – something she had wanted to do since she was young, dressing her cousins in her mother’s and aunt’s clothes and parading them around the house.
“It’s literally my dream come true.”
All the models, including Amanda Wanotch, are from the Sixth Treaty Territory which includes central Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“As a woman with nehiyaw it was so empowering,” Wanotch said.
Representing her Cree, Dene and Metis ancestry, the model who grew up in Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta but now lives in Edmonton, put her spin on the runway.
“I’m sure I wowed a lot of people because I was tea dancing on the runway.”
The grandmother said they received a warm welcome upon arrival.
“We were welcomed in New York and Manhattan and New Jersey, Brooklyn, everywhere. It was just a beautiful experience.”
Wanotch was one of the few plus-size models participating in the show.
She just started modeling in July and in New York she got to share a runway with famous Indigenous Canadian model Ashley Callingbull.
“Now she’s not alone, you know? There are so many of our women who can have these opportunities now. They know it can be done,” Wanotch said.
Bull-Buffalo said the entire trip was memorable.
“I was just savoring it all and trying to soak it all in. The experience – it was my first time in New York, my first time on a plane.”
She wasn’t alone – many of the Canadians in attendance had never visited the Big Apple before.
“I will be here as a runner and set the stone for everyone else to follow,” Gadwa said.
Now, the women hope to inspire the next generation to dream big.
“I’ve never been more proud, wearing the models we were, showing our culture and our background,” added Wanotch.
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