Re­vi­tal­iz­ing In­dige­nous lan­guages in style

Al­ber­tan de­sign­ers are us­ing their brands to ad­vo­cate for more cul­tural aware­ness

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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.


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