The Nisga’a Museum’s first-of-its-kind fashion show at Gitlax̱t’aamiks in the Nass Valley of northern B.C. wowed the audience with a dramatic blend of modern and traditional First Nations designs. Nov. 26 was the only available date for the venue and it so happened to also be Indigenous fashion week in Vancouver.
Models sported a striking blend of colourful and more sombre tones that reflected the theme of the evening, “from darkness to light” based on a Nisga’a story of how the people found light at the beginning of time.
Renowned Nisga’a designer Lillian Tait, whose work inspired the show, recounted the story as told to her by her grandfather when she was young girl.
“In the beginning our people were living in darkness. They were living in longhouses and when they got together they got together in the darkness. They were singing their songs by the fire and this chief was praying and he was crying, talking to the Creator.
“While he was praying he cried and the people were crying with him. After a while they got up and then the lights were starting to come, and they were celebrating and then it became really bright.”
The story is a part of Tait’s rich knowledge of Nisga’a culture that inspires her work, that she’s using to light a fire in the next generations. “I was young once too, and I wanted to know who I was,” she said.
The runway show included Tait’s ‘From Darkness to Light’ collection, the ‘Sacred Connections’ collection by Gitxan and Nisga’a designer Jaimie Davis and the ‘Gwiis Halayt’ collection by Nisga’a designer Vanessa Morgan.
Theresa Schober, who is director of the Nisga’a Museum, was deeply moved at being able to raise awareness of local talent and to offer a first runway experience to Pearl Morrison, who dreams of a career in fashion.
In Morrison’s own words, she is “interested in modeling and fashion design because nothing is off limits, you can let your creativity flow.”
Schober and her team wanted to showcase designers with deep cultural ties, expressed through fashion and regalia, on a larger stage. Schober said they might try to connect the event with that larger Indigenous fashion week platform in Vancouver in future years.
“It was wonderful to see the youth and designers be so supported by their community. The camaraderie after we all came off the runway was a highlight of my time working for the Nisga’a Museum.”
Lillian Tait collaborated on the show with her husband, Nisga’a master carver Alver Tait, a hereditary chief of the Eagle-Beaver Clan, who explained how the darkness to light theme holds significance today.
“We’ve been through so much with the residential schools. That was what you would call darkness, also. We were in it for a long time. That to us was darkness.
“Finally we started to see light. Now we see light. We can own our own homes and we don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s a real new beginning. It’s an awakening.”
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