Otahpiaaki 2019 — Winter Count

Celebrating Indigenous beauty, fashion and design for the fourth year in a row


It is the fourth year of Otahpiaaaki, Calgary’s one-of-a-kind Indigenous beauty, fashion and design week, which uses fashion as a physical representation of changing the narrative to break through systemic inequities long known to the first nations of Canada. Otahpiaaki has grown from presenting the works of two designers in the hallway of Mount Royal’s Bissett School of Business to now including the work of 16 design houses over two nights of fashion shows, in addition to nine workshops, two exhibitions and one panel discussion.

Otahpiaaki’s fashion shows will take place on Nov. 8 at Arts Commons and Nov. 9 at Calgary’s new Central Library. Workshops and events have already begun and will carry through until Dec. 20, with several occurring on the Mount Royal campus.

Much more than just a fashion show, according to its website, Otahpiaaki's goal is to “invite and contribute to significant social, cultural, restorative, and economic reconciliation across reserves, communities, regions and territories.” It is an initiative that is literally seeping into the fabric of the Calgary community, and its significance is providing it with legitimacy and longevity both on the runway and in Indigenous communities.

What 2019 will present

Otahpiaaki 2019

The celebration of Indigenous culture and style through Otahpiaaki is providing one way for Indigenous Peoples to take back their culture, their pride and their prosperity.

Photo courtesy Jenia Kos

Otahpiaaki’s theme for 2019 is Ísstoíyítahsinni//Winter Counts ― Celebrations of Indigenous Language Through Visual Sovereignty, Story and Design. Spirit River Striped Wolf, a fourth-year policy studies student at MRU and one of the founders of Otahpiaaki, describes a “winter count” as a sacred hide that was used in his culture (the Piikani Nation) to collect pictographs of what had happened during a specific time period.

“For Indigenous people, our language is really important,” says Striped Wolf. “But also how did we talk about that language? How did we display it? We didn't have an alphabet, or a written language. But what we did have was pictographs.”

Just about everything to do with Otahpiaaki is heavy with meaning, and the winter count passed on teachings from generation to generation. Otahpiaaki itself is meant to preserve and protect Indigenous knowledge and artistic traditions while also providing new research and support systems in order to strengthen economic development in communities.

As one of the three student originators of Otahpiaaki, Striped Wolf has dedicated the last three years to in-depth research about how deeply ingrained shame in Indigenous communities has crippled their prosperity. He has penned an award-winning paper titled “Shame and Distrust as Obstacles for Indigenous Economic Development: A Path to Addressing the Ongoing Genocide of Indigenous People,” which “explores causes to economic gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

Through his work, Striped Wolf reveals how modern Indigenous culture has been harmed through the “faulty parental disciplinary styles that were passed down from the residential school system.” Discipline came in the form of shaming, which is counter-intuitive to Indigenous culture. Striped Wolf says that shame was a foreign concept to Indigenous communities before residential schools, and that if someone had done something “wrong” it was simply pointed out that their actions were detrimental to the whole of the society. The shaming endured by Indigenous Peoples in residential schools has a range of consequences like the inability to create functional businesses because entrepreneurship requires the ability to engage in successful relationships, Striped Wolf says.

“It makes it difficult to be able to see the perspective of other people when you're always kind of concerned about your own perspective and your own needs and your own emotions. We know that shame deeply inhibits. A really good way of saying it is, ‘If you don't trust yourself, who can you trust?’”

Striped Wolf was chosen to appear in the first instalment of The National's “Face to Face” series during the federal election, and was able to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a direct question. He inquired as to how policies are going to be able to undo the damage that residential schools did, given that they disempowered the way Indigenous Peoples see themselves and others.

Striped Wolf called for radical policies to start happening fast. The residential school system was a radical policy, he pointed out, and sees no reason why that can’t be counteracted with a reciprocal governmental strategy.

In addition to his most recent work, Striped Wolf won Best in Stream for his presentation at the 10th International Social Innovation Research Conference held at Ruprecht-Karls-University in Heidelberg, Germany in 2018 for his paper titled “Challenging Scarcity: Nation-to-Nation Policy Imperatives for Indigenous Community Prosperity.”

Striped Wolf will be hosting a workshop for Indigenous entrepreneurs on Nov. 9.

Another Otahpiaaki founder, Mount Royal justice studies alumna Taryn Hamilton also won Best in Stream in Heidelberg for her work “Otahpiaaki Law Keepers: Attributional Justice, the Role of Elders, and Decolonizing the Intellectual Property of Indigenous Creatives.” Hamilton, who has been studying how to combat cultural appropriation, is seeking to help artists and designers protect their property. She has noted that current legislation does not protect custodianship, for example, how designs can be passed down from generation to generation in families. She is now pursuing a law degree at the University of Victoria and is continuing her research.

Bachelor of Science ― Environmental Science student Braden Etzerza is the final of the three student founders, and researches food insecurity issues for Indigenous Peoples. He intertwines Indigenous beliefs with the scientific study of plant growth, hoping to create new industries with the knowledge that has been in Indigenous communities for centuries.

Many stitches hold the cloth together

The name Otahpiaaki comes from the Blackfoot language and describes the moment when the sole and the vamp of a moccasin are sewn together.

Photo courtesy Plain Eagle Media

Also involved in Otahpiaaki’s development was a team of Blackfoot elders, including cultural adviser and legacy knowledge keeper Jeannie Smith-Davis, who coined the name of Otahpiaaki, which describes the moment when the sole and the vamp of a moccasin are sewn together.

Otahpiaaki was originally funded through the Apaat tsi kani takiiks (those who create sparks) grant provided to Mount Royal, which was a three-year initiative beginning in May 2017 as a continuation of the Suncor Aboriginal Business Education pilot project. That funding is soon coming to an end, and so Otahpiaaki 2020 may potentially not occur.

But good news recently came with the securing of funding from the Alberta Law Foundation Board of Director in support of Hamilton’s research. Associate professor Patti Derbyshire, who has worked closely with Otahpiaaki’s founders as one of its faculty founders and been with the project since its inception, says, “The Alberta law foundation has provided us sponsorship for a legal panel on intellectual property. Between Taryn Hamilton and Jeannie Smith-Davis, Taryn has been chipping away at finding better ways to protect Indigenous intellectual property.” Derbyshire says that a lot of fashion designers and performers are having their work appropriated by really big brands, and that the goal is to change Canadian law in terms of supporting Indigenous creative.

The celebration of Indigenous culture and style through Otahpiaaki is providing one way for Indigenous Peoples to take back their culture, their pride and their prosperity. It is also providing others with insight into the challenges faced by Indigenous communities. Visual and tactile, the amazing clothing, jewelry and accessory designs represent the past, present and future of Canada’s Indigenous story. Celebrate Otahpiaaki 2019.


Otahpiaaki Fashion Shows

Celebrations of Indigenous Language Runway with Jeremy Dutcher and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Nov. 8 at 6 p.m.
Arts Commons

Runway featuring Evan DuCharme (Métis, Cree, Ojibwe, and Saulteaux) and LUXX Ready-to-Wear (Derek Jagodzinsky, Whitefish Lake First Nation).

Standing Showcase featuring Section 35 (Justin Louis, Maskwacis Samson Cree Nation) and OXDX (Jared Yazzie, Diné Navajo).

Purchase for Nov. 8 here.

Ísstoíyítahsinni - Winter Count: Celebrations of Visual Sovereignty, Story, and Design Couture Runway

Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. 
Central Library

Standing Showcase featuring Livia Manywounds (Tsuut'ina First Nation), MOBILIZE (Dusty LeGrande, Cree) and Melrene Saloy-Eaglespeaker (Kainaiwa). On the runway: Heather Crowshow Couture (Piikani Nation), The Chief’s Daughter (Karli Crowshoe,Piikani Nation) Faith Starlight (Cree/Stoney Whitefish First Nation), Carol Mason (Kainai Nation), Tobi Davis (Kainaiwa & Piikani Nations),Heather Bouchier (Beardy's & Okemasis First Nation), White Otter Design (Jaymie Campbell, Anishinaabe, Curve Lake First Nation), Faye Thomas (Cree, Pelican Lake First Nation),and Martha Kyak (Pond Inlet, Nunavut).

Purchase for Nov. 9 here.


Discover Otahpiaaki’s educational and artistic workshops and activities.


Oct. 30, 2019 — Michelle Bodnar

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