Revitalizing Indigenous languages in style
Albertan designers are using their brands to advocate for more cultural awareness
When Brandi Morin’s kohkum (Cree for grandmother) passed away, her aunties were cleaning her house and found pieces of paper scattered throughout that had short stories and memories on them in their mother’s handwriting.
They found the elongated, cursive writings on scrap bits, papers, and even flyers. They compiled all her writings in a mini book, made photocopies, and gave them to all the children and grandchildren, including Morin.
Inspired by her kohkum, Morin, an Edmonton-based designer, decided to use her handwritten stories in her designs. This inspired a casualwear line of shirts and leggings that aims to revitalize endangered Indigenous languages. Being Métis, Morin decided to call her line Mixed Blood Apparel.
She is just one of many Indigenous designers from Alberta who are taking the fashion world by storm, one culturally appropriate piece at a time.
The Indigenous fashion industry has seen a growth in the past couple years, with the country’s very first Indigenous fashion show called Otahpiaaki taking place in Calgary in 2016, followed by Vancouver in 2017, and Toronto this past summer. In Alberta,
the fashion industry has become a movement, advocating for awareness of Indigenous culture, traditions and issues. Most Indigenous designers are using their labels and designs for advocacy, not just fashion.
Morin’s line of shirts and
leggings include solid colours with words, phrases, and sometimes even entire sentences, written in Cree.
“My vision for Mixed Blood Apparel was to create empowering contemporary fashion designs that celebrate Indigenous culture and help revitalize endangered Indigenous languages, and also to incorporate and uplift the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she said.
“I really recognize that Indigenous languages are endangered. I wanted to find a way to make a difference in that area.”
Morin not only used her kohkum’s stories, but also Cree syllabics for words such as tawaw (meaning come in, you’re welcome) and ohen:ton (meaning free, informed, consent).
Morin’s grandmother, Ruth Petrin (née Chalifoux) belonged to the Michel First Nation and was sent to a residential school in St. Albert in 1945 after the death of her father.
Due to her time at the school and assimilation later on, she had lost most of her language and spoke mostly in English.
However, in 2008 after a brief battle with stomach cancer, on her deathbed and surrounded by her children and grandchildren, it all came flooding back to her.
“When she was dying, all of her language came back to her and she started speaking fluently in Cree language and that’s all she was speaking in,” Morin recalled.
Mixed Blood Apparel owner Brandi Morin, left, adjusts one of her creations covered in Cree syllabics worn by Amy Quintal in Stony Plain, Alta.