Delina White has been doing beadwork since she was 6 years old. Her mother used to do all the sewing of their regalia, but when she passed on, Delina and her siblings had to take up this work on their own. “We’re big powwow people, we used to dance all over the US and Canada. I always said we were walking billboards because we’d make our own stuff.”
White has come a long way since then, opening her own company in 2014, i am anishinaabe, which she runs with her daughters, Lavender and Sage, on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. “I always want to say we’re emerging artists, yet we’ve been doing this our whole lives.”
Though she often gets labelled as contemporary when she submits to shows, White still considers herself a traditional artist. “I make cultural clothing, but my collection here is traditional with a twist.” White debuted her collection entitled, Indigenous Resilience, at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) in June.
The collection is made up of five skirts and one men’s traditional regalia, most of which she created in the last 6 months. “I did not procrastinate and I am just exhausted, but it was so worth it,” says White. “This collection is about expressing your identity. I always talk about how I sew for people and that I want people to be happy and to express their identity because that’s what fashion does.”
White wanted to create her own fabric for her collections, and she wanted her pieces to represent more than Indigenous design. While using her visibility to promote Indigenous artistry was extremely important to her, she felt that her work should also serve as a vehicle to promote awareness of contemporary Indigenous realities and social issues. So she proposed a collaboration with Indigenous artists Christi Belcourt, Isaac Murdoch, and Jonathan Labillois. “I think their work is amazing, it’s so powerful,” she says, of the message banners she turned into fabric that read things like ‘Water is Life,’ ‘Protect the Sacred.” She also used Jonathan Labillois’ ‘Still Dancing,’ which represents missing women. “They create these for the protesters to use, and people know instantly what the messages are. I wanted to continue those messages on the fashion runway. Take it to maybe a new market and create more awareness through my clothing.”
This is an Apache-style skirt and I really liked the white, so I paired it with a polka dot top. It gives off almost a mod look. I took photographs of it in water too, to bring out the ‘Water is Life’ theme.
This is the collaboration with Jonathan Labillois. These women are not all Indigenous, but they’re all missing, and that’s a really important message too. I used the image over and over, and added a chiffon layer over it. I wanted it to have a heavenly, kind of ethereal feel to it.
I have such a small collection, but I think it’s important we include our two-spirit people into whatever it is that we do. It has a goth feel to it, I wanted it to be like a royal skirt, with the volume. And I thought the fabric looked like tattoos, so when I knew Ziibiwan was going to wear it, I had them put on temporary tattoos. It’s designed to show both pride in identity and culture, although anyone can wear any of my skirts. The entire collection is called, Indigenous Resilience, so I thought it appropriate to show the barriers all members of our community have resisted.
This skirt was designed with fabric I had made based on my beadwork. This one is a part of me, part of my beadwork, it’s definitely Indigenous.
This is my "Mother Earth Revolution" skirt. And as you can see, I left the artists’ names on there, Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch, because they deserve the credit too.
This one has a lot of beadwork. It took me about 15 months to finish it. The last few weeks (leading up to the event) you start not sleeping, trying to finish all your sewing and beading. I was thinking why I am doing this, but of course it was so worth it.F
To shop Delina White, visit: www.iamanishinaabe.com
Photo Credits: (Front Page): Lacey Criswell Hunt + Capture Photography
Article Cover Image: Nadya Kwandibens - Red Works Photography
Runway Photos: Nadya Kwandibens - Red Works Photography