British Columbia

Don’t Go To Bass Coast

Don’t Go To Bass Coast

By Alan Ranta MERRITT – 2018 marked the tenth anniversary of Bass Coast, the infamous electronic music and arts festival that…

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Otahpiaaki 2017: Indigenous Beauty, Fashion and Design Week 

Sunday 24th, September 2017 / 11:53
By B.Simm 


Based out of Mount Royal University, Otahpiaaki is an annual week long event that showcases Indigenous beauty, fashion and design featuring a wealth of local and regional Indigenous artists and designers with their inspiring creatives. Patti Derbyshire – Chair of Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Social Innovation in the Bissett School of Business at MRU – talks in-depth about what Otahpiaak 2017 has to offer and what it hopes to achieve with this bold and exciting Indigenous venture.  



CALGARY – Overall the focus of the event draws on a rich Indigenous past, but then places it into a very contemporary context. In fact, that seems to be a statement made: while its roots are deep in tradition, this is a very progressive exhibition, this is Indigenous fashion design here and now.  

I think this is a good read of Otahpiaaki 2017 and the designers with whom who we’ve started to build relationships. At our first showcase last November, Justin Louis and Tishna Marlowe informed the direction of this project. There were three things that are important to convey. First, that our student teams understand that Indigenous creatives are carriers of vibrant cultural knowledge and a voice that has always been strong, resilient and diverse.  

Also, the design and craft of Indigenous apparel, fashion, music, film and arts has always been a critical component of identity in Indigenous communities – an underappreciated hallmark of Canada’s fashion identity. Our students completed research in this area earlier this year and we discovered that iconic fashion and apparel in Canada, in fact, is Indigenous. Finally, there is an immense creative and economic engine, by Indigenous designers and for Indigenous designers, where global impact and presence is inevitable.  

Looking at cross-section of the seminars and workshops offered, it seems like every stone is overturned, is there anything in Indigenous fashion and and design that isn’t covered?  

There are 760+ First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities within Canada, so there is much to discover yet. This is a Seven Generations project that we intend to co-create over the next seven years, so we’re just infants really. There’s no question that the strength of the program comes from the advice of our Elder, Jeannie Smith Davis, recommendations from our founder-designers, as well as Otahpiaaki student teams. Fashion and creativity are powerful platforms for discussion and healing.  

What we’ve developed is what worked last year – using fashion, sewing, creative studios, social innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking as opportunities to build relationships and knowledge of difficult and compelling topics. Those who participate in workshops with this year’s Indigenous designers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous receive new knowledge. It is not formalized but we found when people work creatively with their hands, they will listen and speak with one another, with time to reflect on what is being shared.   

One might learn about a craft technique and its lineage, but honestly last year participants learned as much about deep beauty –intellectual, spiritual, cultural, emotional and physical, the diversity of Nations, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Men, the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, the Indian Act, and about the TRC Calls to Action. Discussion and action are embedded in each of the workshops and will be shown over and over on the runway events . 


There’s a strong entrepreneurial, a business component. How is that weaved into the event?  

Economic reconciliation is a pillar of the greater Otahpiaaki project and incorporates new venture thinking, marketing, and social innovation. We are based at the Bissett School of Business so it’s valuable and a natural fit to hear the stories and methods of how each of these designers are building their brands. In some cases, our students have collaborated on eCommerce sites, graphic design and the design of lookbooks for designers who do not have these tools. 

One of our founding students Spirit River Striped Wolf (MRU Policy Studies) developed an international costing export tool for any designer to use if they’re thinking of selling in the EU. Another student, Taryn Hamilton (MRU Justice Studies) is engaged in developing new Canadian law designed to protect the industrial designs of Indigenous creatives. It matters who is at the front of the room too. Each of these designers have successful ventures. So, having thought leaders like Justin Louis present and inspire others is critical to growth that we anticipate could be upwards of 19.6M in our province alone.  


The Truth and Reconciliation Showcases go beyond the flair of a fashion show. Could you elaborate on these two showcases? 

We kick off the week with a performance by Grammy nominated artists, the Northern Cree Singers on September 18, and are very excited to be screening Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World on Tuesday, Sept. 19 both at the Bella Concert Hall.  

The Truth Showcase has been curated to include designers whose work inspires questioning, commitment, action, impact and change through designs.  The evening opens with opens with champion hoop dancer Dallas Arcand who warms up our runway.  

The Reconciliation Showcase has been assembled from designers’ collections that are more couture and avant-garde, similar to a luxury runway from New York or Paris – many of our designers have been invited to both. Our featured guest is Brenda Lee Asp from the Northern Tutchine First Nation in the Yukon. The final piece in the showcase is a reconciliation cape project organized by Brenda that will be built collaboratively over the week.  


For all details about the seminars, runaway shows, music, film, scheduling and tickets for Otahpiaaki 2017, go to 

Truth Fashion Showcase

Thursday, September 21, 2017
7:00pm  9:00pm
City Hall Atrium

The Otahpiaaki Truth Fashion Showcase strives to disrupt, engage, educate and motivate participants to learn and do. We know the truth is challenging, believe it is essential, and that we can convey powerful truths through fashion and creativity that inspire commitment, action, impact, and change.

Youth Fashion Showcase

Friday, September 22, 2017
7:00pm  10:00pm
City Hall Atrium

The Otahpiaaki Youth Fashion Showcase is dedicated to (re)connecting Indigenous culture and perspectives – traditional, contemporary and both together for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Treaty 7, the Calgary area, and beyond. The showcase will feature ‘must have’ accessible, high energy streetwear and style signatures that have the potential to inspire a future generation to participate in the creative sector.

The Reconciliation Showcase

Saturday, September 23, 2017
7:00pm  10:00pm
City Hall Atrium

The Reconciliation Showcase will focus on couture, contemporary, and avant-garde collections. Included is a collaborative concept for a Reconciliation gown or garment – the culmination of the fashion parade this night will be a fashion look designed to emphasize that the work of reconciliation is for neighbours, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. This night serves to move towards dialogue and healing, and finding a path towards reconciliation through mutual respect and understanding.

Standing: $10
General Admission $25
Runway Seating: $60
VIP Admission: $125

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