A group of Indigenous fashion designers and models were invited to the prestigious New York Fashion Week to show the world a sampling of First Nations, Inuit and Metis culture.
“Going to New York Fashion Week, for Indigenous Fashion Week, was absolutely mind blowing. It was life changing,” explained model Brittany Gadwa.
The single mother and social worker who lives in the town of Elk Point, Alta. got to model in the hiTechMODA show, representing her Kehewin Cree Nation ancestry.
“Backstage I was shaking. I was shaking in my heels. It was absolutely invigorating.”
Gadwa said she shed a lot of tears on the trip.
“As a child, I dealt with suicidal ideations because I was bullied a lot. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know my self worth. For me to go to New York was a big healing experience.”
Her outfit was designed by another Albertan: Louis Bull Tribe’s Doneese Bull-Buffalo.
The ribbon skirt maker and bead worker put together 10 new outfits for the show, inspired by something she missed in the pandemic.
“Because of COVID we had no powwows and so I wanted my skirts sparkly and colourful — just like how the regalia is.”
After slaying the runway, the Canadian contingent did a little sightseeing.
“We went to Times Square for a photoshoot 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’s wanted to do since she was young, dressing her cousins up in her mother’s and aunties’ clothes and parading them around the house.
“It’s literally my dream come true.”
All of the models, including Amanda Wanotch, are from Treaty Six Territory that encompasses central Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“As a nêhiyaw woman it was so empowering,” Wanotch said.
Representing her Cree, Dene and Metis ancestry, the model who was raised in Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta but now lives in Edmonton put her own spin on the runway strut.
“I’m sure I wowed a lot of people because I tea-danced down the runway.”
The grandmother said she received a warm reception upon arrival.
“We were welcomed in New York and Manhattan and in New Jersey, Brooklyn, everywhere. It was just a beautiful experience.”
Wanotch was one of the few plus-size models taking part in the shows.
She just started modelling in July and in New York got to share a runway with famous Indigenous Canadian model Ashley Callingbull.
“Now she’s not alone, you know? There’s so many of our women that can have these opportunities now. They know it can be done,” Wanotch said.
Bull-Buffalo said the whole trip was unforgettable.
“I was just enjoying it all and trying to soak it all in. The experience — that was my first time to New York, first time on a plane.”
She wasn’t alone — many of the Canadians in attendance had never visited the Big Apple before.
“I’m going to be here as a trail-blazer and I’ll set the stone for everyone else to follow through,” Gadwa said.
Now, the women hope to inspire the next generation to dream big.
“I was never more proud, wearing the designs that we were, showcasing our culture and our ancestry,” Wanotch added.