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At national Indigenous fashion show, a spotlight for two West Kootenay artists

Jaymie Campbell and Naomi Bourque will exhibit their work in Toronto
Nelson’s Naomi Bourque shows off two of the 10 ponchos she has designed that will be worn on runways at Indigenous Fashion Arts festival in Toronto. Photo: Tyler Harper

Every piece of fashion Jaymie Campbell creates has its own story.

It might be one inspired by her family, or perhaps a moment spent in nature. The story could be in the materials she uses, such as how her moose hide was harvested or in the beads she chooses.

The final products are stories she tries to make sure will last much longer than the fast fashion people wear and discard.

“I always hope whenever I make something that it is going to be passed down to future generations.”

Campbell, a New Denver-based artist, and Nelson’s Naomi Bourque have been invited to exhibit their work at the Indigenous Fashion Arts festival in Toronto, which runs May 30 to June 2 and provides a high-profile spotlight for Indigenous artists from across Canada.

Despite belonging to a family of artists with Anishnaabe heritage on her father’s side, Campbell didn’t immediately take up fashion as a career.

She grew up in New Denver but moved to Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario when she was 10. In university she completed bachelor degrees in biology and outdoor recreation before working in local governance with a Cree community in Alberta for seven years.

During that time she learned about hide tanning and began focusing on bead work. Campbell left her job, returned to New Denver and started White Otter Design Co.

Campbell said her grandmother was a hunter and father was a painter, but making a living from art wasn’t realistic for them as it has become for her.

“They all came up during a time where Indigenous art wasn’t cool. Often people just called it craft making, and it wasn’t taken particularly seriously. So I think there’s been like a huge resurgence in the last few years and it’s really cool to see.”

New Denver’s Jaymie Campbell (left) shows a piece she designed. Campbell specializes in bead work. Photo courtesy Indigenous Fashion Arts

Her specialty is intricate bead designs that previously garnered attention from the New York Times. Each First Nation, she says, has its own distinct patterns and styles that she draws inspiration from. She also enjoys sourcing vintage beads, some of which are over a century old and boast what she describes as “a different vibrancy.”

Beadwork is meditative for Campbell, but also requires concentration. It’s especially the case with her current work, which uses micro beads from the early 20th century.

“They’re like grains of sand. They’re so small I have to swap needles out to even use them. It’s a whole new learning curve. I’m a full-time beadwork artist and it’s like teaching myself all over again to use these tiny little beads.”

A model wears earrings created by New Denver’s Jaymie Campbell. Photo courtesy Indigenous Fashion Arts

She’ll be joined in Toronto by Bourque, who is currently the artist-in-residence at Selkirk College’s School of the Arts in Nelson.

Bourque was born in Yellowknife of Gwich’in, Métis and Scandinavian descent. Her mother, a trained furrier, supported her children with her work and inspired Bourque to become an artist. In 2011 she moved to Nelson to enrol at Selkirk where she trained in jewelry, metalwork and textiles.

In Toronto, Bourque will have models wear 10 ponchos she has created on the runway. Each poncho was created with the theme of the medicine harvest and uses materials sourced from northern Canada. One water-themed poncho uses fish scales, otter fur and seal. Another stands out for using timber wolf paws that were a gift from Bourque’s brother.

“Each poncho I wanted to speak to a functionality for when you’re out gathering and harvesting. So you can walk freely with a poncho. It’s like a blanket. It’s cozy, right? But hands free. And then all of them have a pocket or something going on for that specific harvest.”

One of the ponchos designed by Nelson’s Naomi Bourque is worn by a model. Photo courtesy Indigenous Fashion Arts

Expressing herself through fashion has also been a source of comfort for Bourque.

Both of her parents survived residential school, a family history Bourque says she’s worked to reconcile with in her art. She’s also taught her two children in jewelry, one of whom will join her in Toronto where Bourque is looking forward to connecting with a community and finding further inspiration.

“This whole body of work has really been almost a healing journey for me. I have had a bit of assistance with some of the embellishments, like the embroidery and such. But generally, I’ve taught myself how to do all these things and so I’m really proud of that.”

READ MORE: B.C. Indigenous matriarchs knit fundraising campaign to reclaim land

Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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