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Designers join forces to create Aboriginal council

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Kathleen Orth, Birchbark Writer, Toronto







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"Our Aboriginal designers are there now!" said Andre Morriseau of Aboriginal Voices Radio. "Keep it up," offered Amos Keys of the Aboriginal Music Awards.

Morriseau and Keys both acted as emcees for Meet the Challenge, a press conference and fashion show held March 16 at the Indian Motorcycle Cafe and Lounge in Toronto.

Organized by designer Angela DeMontigny (Cree/Metis, Six Nations, Ontario) and Carol Outram, director of the design division of the Canadian Apparel Federation, Meet the Challenge took place during L'Oreal Fashion Week, March 14 to 19. This special event, which showcased the work of six Aboriginal designers, served to announce the launch of the Canadian Aboriginal Design Council, a new arrival on the fashion scene.

The Canadian Aboriginal Design Council will represent designers, artisans, and embroiderers, those who do beadwork, quillwork and other crafts. Members of the council include DeMontigny, Pamela Baker (Squamish First Nation, BC), Tammy Beauvais (Mohawk, Turtle Clan, Quebec), D'Arcy Moses (South Slave Dene, Northwest Territories), Nellie Norwegian (Northwest Territories), and Lisa West (Ontario).

The council will be "trying to create an industry that is sustainable, unique and authentic," DeMontigny said.

"The goal is the international market, especially Europe," she said. "We want to connect everybody so people won't be isolated ... We have all faced the same issues and challenges."

The first step in creating the council was to establish a need for such a body, Outram said. That in turn meant proving that an Aboriginal design industry exists in Canada. To do that the council members, with support from Aboriginal Business Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, conducted a survey to identify artisans and designers across the country, the crafts they practice and their degree of expertise. To date, 250 entries have been collected. Plans call for the database to be online, and for the Canadian Aboriginal Design Council to have its own Web site.

Members of the council know there is a market for whatever Aboriginal designers and artisans can create, and will offer them assistance with product development, quality control and marketing.

While the survey results showed there aren't many young people practicing traditional crafts, there are many Aboriginal students enrolled in design courses. Established Aboriginal designers can work to encourage these students, DeMontigny said.

"They need to know this is something they can be a part of."

The members of the design council first came together last year for FashionNation, a fashion show featuring the works of Aboriginal designers held in Toronto during last year's Fashion Week, and decided based on that experience that the whole could be greater than the sum of the parts, DeMontigny said.

"FashionNation enjoyed such success and the group worked together well. We realized we could have a greater impact and more success, plus benefit from cost-sharing."

Outram has been an avid supporter of Aboriginal fashion for many years and will continue to be involved with the design council.

"People do the most wonderful things in the remotest of communities," Outram said. "Aboriginal designers are recognized as unique and precious and there is growing interest internationally in their work. What you saw on the runway was inspired by each person's culture and is a unique statement."

For more information about the Canadian Aboriginal Design Council contact Angela DeMontigny (a.demontigny@sympatico.ca) or Carol Outram (outram@videotron.ca).