MATIKA WILBUR: Welcome back to another episode of all my relations, we're so happy that you've joined us today, and we just want to start by telling you that we love you and we're grateful for you and thank you so much for joining us on this podcasting journey. I think you're in for a real treat today. Today something really special is happening, and Adrienne is going to tell you why.
ADRIENNE KEENE: Thanks. No, I, I'm like so excited to share this conversation just because this was the very first episode that we recorded together. You can tell when you're listening to it, how excited we are about this project and just like joyful and full of this anticipation of being able to talk with our really good friends Jessica Metcalfe and Jamie Okuma about their work in the world of Native fashion so I love listening to it because we've become friends only through this world of Native representations like it's not separate from the work that we do, our friendship. So I love that you can hear that long standing relationship that we have just through the excitement and our voices and the like laughter and the, the way we use shorthand for a lot of things and kind of assume that everyone knows what we're talking about. But it's a beautiful episode and it's fun to just hear that joy in our voices as Native women to get to say and talk together about something we care about which is Native fashion.
MATIKA: Yeah, and also you know I think maybe not often do we get to hear the, the sort of intimate conversations and the giggle and the love and And like you said the shorthand expressions, but also you know this sort of the way that we would naturally discuss these topics with one another and so I think that in that way you get this sort of fluid conversation that feels like you're sitting in your auntie’s kitchen with your with your cousins and getting the opportunity to just sort of like giggle and, and reminisce and that to me is why this is so special. I love that we're getting to come together with with women that we admire and love and respect and and have a lot of fun with.
ADRIENNE: Fashion is often relegated to this realm of being like, elitist or inaccessible or expensive, but for Native folks like Jessica talks about this in her work a lot that our ancestors were stylish she always says like we thought and think a lot about the ways that we represent our communities through the clothing that we wear. To me, this Native fashion movement is just an extension of that of being able to represent who you are and where you come from, and do it in a really cool and of the moment, way, while also honoring your ancestors in your community. And to me like really showcasing that kind of intertribal communication and trade like that I as a Cherokee person can wear Navajo earrings that were made by a Navajo designer or right now I'm reppin from Coast Salish ones by artists in Canada, so being able to like bring all of that together and show how our communities, relate with one another to I think is really exciting. The cool thing about our conversation around Native fashion is like, there's this spectrum and range of like traditional clothing powwow regalia, and then sort of streetwear like your everyday like clothes that you wear that are t-shirts or whatever and then couture fashion which is like the high fashion, the handmade stuff, and the ways that Native design crosses all of those places and so for me like earrings are a way that kind of brings together a lot of that. I have earrings that are more and I hate even using the language of you know a traditional versus modern and I think that's what a lot of the designers are trying to challenge is being like, it's all one. I really like the ways that it starts conversations with people, they ask me about them, and then I'm able to talk about which designer it is, where they come from, what community they come from, why it's particular to that style of community. That's really important to me as well.
MATIKA: I love that you bring up the conversation about modern versus traditional it also brings up the conversation about authentic and inauthentic and one of the ways that I think about that being problematic and difficult in our communities is like my, my aunties are all weavers they weave from cedar. And some people would, will criticize them and say, well that's not traditional because you used red dye. And our ancestors didn't use red dye. Our ancestors would have used berries to dye this cedar, and my, my auntie Judy will say something like well you think of our ancestors were here right now they wouldn't use red dye? And, you know, I, I've often heard people say to me that my work because I'm a photographer is not traditional work, you know, because I'm using modern technology and I actually want to tell when I get had a show in the Czech Republic, that the curator said that I was not, you know, when she introduced me. One of the things that she said was that I was not a traditional artist because I wasn't practicing in a traditional form, but that I was a modern Indigenous artists and what a treat that was, I was sort of like really taken back in that moment that that was the way that she chose to introduce me, because I don't think that being traditional or being authentic has anything to do with the materials that we use I think it also has to do with our frame of mind and our reference and the way that we do the work like, with a good mind and a good heart, with a prayer. And, and I think that our ancestors were the same way and I think that that is what is that tradition in that way is what's carried on and that's a really beautiful thing, but I I think I was watching that “Ugly Delicious”, which is one of my favorite shows on Netflix I love David Chang he's my favorite, Momofuku’s like definitely one my favorite restaurants, but I was watching his episode on pizza last night. And he was talking about how he hates the word authenticity when we discuss food, because of course, when we say that we're, we're like, sort of, we're denying our own history that we innovate and evolve and migrate and intermarry and there's this sort of like trans culturalism that happens in our communities and that has to be okay. You know we have to accept that our communities, in order to be alive and thriving are changing, and that is what's happening in this Native fashion industry and it's happening rapidly and we're seeing it for the first time on social media as it's happening in the moment and that is so cool to me.
ADRIENNE: Yeah, the idea that there is some, like historic past where we as Native people were authentic and pure and traditional and now everything is just moving away from that is like a total construction by settler colonialism and white supremacy, designed to keep us in that historic past and not allow us to be present and modern, and therefore challenge their right to exist. To me, it's by doing this work of remixing and retooling and taking tools from other communities to create art that is from our communities is something that is really powerful from a perspective of doing decolonial work. It's not just that like, it's cool and we're allowed to. It's that we always have and will continue to like Native folks have always innovated and have always like used tools and materials and things as they come into our communities and those then become part of who we are. Can you imagine any of the Plains communities like beadwork is so huge, in our communities and beads were, you know, something that came from contact so I think that the work that's happening in Native fashion is really about creating this present and future that is also what we have always done, representing ourselves through the materials and tools and relationships that we have available to us.
MATIKA: Oh, welcome to all my relations ladies we're super happy to have you for our Native fashion episode we have Dr. Jessica Metcalfe.
JESSICA METCALFE: Why, hello.
MATIKA: And Miss Jamie Okuma.
JAMIE OKUMA: Hi.
ADRIENNE: So today we're going to be talking Native fashion, which is something that all of us are really excited about and interested in and both of you bring such incredible expertise. So for our audience, we're gonna introduce you, read some bios and then ask you to introduce yourselves. Our first guest here is here in the studio with us is Dr. Jessica Metcalfe. She is Turtle Mountain Chippewa from the lands that are currently known as North Dakota. She's leading a national movement to buy authentic Native American made fashion, Jessica is the owner and creator of the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, which is an online and now also brick and mortar fashion boutique featuring work from Native designers from all over the US and Canada. She also holds a PhD in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona, so we can call her Dr J, she's also a dynamo on the dance floor, the woman you want behind your fashion show or fashion event, a brilliant scholar friend and role model. And if you need to know someone in the Native fashion world, chances are Jessica is on first name basis with them. Welcome Dr. Metcalfe
JESSICA: Oh why thank you, Dr. Keene.
MATIKA: Whatever call me doctor, too.
JESSICA: Dr. Matika, Dr. Teeks.
MATIKA: Dr. Love.
JESSICA: Talking about fashion or talking about love.
MATIKA: One and the same, Dr. J, one and the same. We also have Jenny Okuma with us today from the world wide web Skyping in so thank you Jamie for being here with us.
JAMIE: Thanks for having me ladies.
MATIKA: Jamie is a Luisueno and Shoshone Bannock fashion designer. She creates brilliant intricate creative works of beadwork with the tiniest beads you've ever seen, while also simultaneously creating gorgeous couture fashion gowns and bags, as well as ready to wear fashion. She has won at least five Best in Show ribbons from both Santa Fe Indian Market and the [name] market, but let's just say she's never satisfied. The next year, it's always more brilliant. She's an artist who refuses to find her niche and stick to it. She's constantly evolving and trying new things and pushing the envelope. Let's just say one of the things that I love about Jamie is that she constantly collaborates with other artists, and she is so willing to be helpful and loving to so many people around her and we have mad respect for you for that Jamie so welcome again to our show.
JAMIE: Hello and thank you again for humbling words. Thank you so much.
MATIKA: So if you guys would just take a moment to introduce yourself. The way you would to a large group of people.
JESSICA: Usually I just kind of say hello, you know, testing the mic. Hello, my name is Jessica Metcalfe. I am Turtle Mountain Chippewa from North Dakota. I keep it pretty basic like that I am the owner of Beyond Buckskin which is a business and website dedicated to promoting and selling Native American made fashion. Oh this has been a journey for me that started back in 2012, before that 2009, before that 2005, it's been a journey. Yeah, many many points so this has been an amazing journey and I'm so blessed to be here with with these amazing powerful women so I'm excited to talk about Native fashion.
MATIKA: Go ahead, Jamie, tell us a little about yourself.
JAMIE: My name is Jamie Okuma, I am Luiseno, Shoshone Bannock among some others, I live here, where we're at right now in the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Southern California, and I am an artist fashion designer. That’s about it.
ADRIENNE: The name of our podcast is all my relations, we wanted to choose that because we're really interested in the ways that we relate to one another, the ways that we have relationships with the land with our ancestors with the work that we do. So just this idea of being relational people as Native folks and the idea of the relationships that we hold and the responsibilities that come with them. So we're going to be asking all of our guests on the podcast, just how this idea of all my relations resonates with them or the ways that they think about relationships in their own life, and the work that they do. So, if, Jamie I don't know if you wanted to start just thinking about these ideas of relationships being relational people and how that translates into your work, or your life.
JAMIE: Oh. Everything I mean from our families, our communities that we live in, it's it all is encompassing I think within my work, you may not see that, but when I'm for myself when I look back at pieces, I can think of, who I was talking with that day, or certain significant things that happen along the way. It's such an important part of Indian Country anywhere you go. I think between here in Canada. I mean, you better. You will know someone who knows someone that you know, and that's, it's such a relational type of relationship, and a really really cool thing to think about when you go to conferences, art shows shows or anything you're gonna know someone who knows someone if not, you're going to know them. So that's kind of what it may be think about.
ADRIENNE: Yeah. Thank you.
MATIKA: Yeah, I'm with you on that one. Jamie, that idea of, and just knowing that in Indian country there's always, maybe at most two degrees of separation. Maybe you know in the larger community there's like six degrees of separation, but in Indian country you just have to be careful who you snag because it could be your cousin.
JAMIE: If you claim to be something you better know about. We’ll hold you to that.
MATIKA:I think it's really great to acknowledge that our identities are inherently connected to our relationships. And so our relationship with land, our relationship with water, our relationship with our grandmothers, and that that relationship hasn't been severed. Part of what makes being Indigenous to turtle islands so prolific and different than than anything than an identity of a colonizer, our relationships have been rooted deeply rooted in this land. And it's, it's fundamental to who we are. And so I would you like to touch on that subject?
JESSICA:Oh did you see me in deep thought. I was like Yeah girl. No so when I made the decision to launch Beyond Buckskin, I was actually based out of Phoenix teaching at Arizona State University, right in Tempe, and I was surrounded by millions of people literally surrounded by all these humans and all these people in all these bodies, but I never felt so alone in all of my life, and I had to move back home and I had to do this. This business is fashion. In the main, you know, mainstream industry it's it's it's not something that's rural considered rural it's not something that's it's considered a little bit, you know city flashy whatever trendy, but I needed to go back home to remember why I was doing this business, it was to provide as many opportunities to Native people as possible, and I needed my own Native community to back it and support it, or else it would be worth nothing. Whenever I did move back home, and we opened the business we would have people walk in, and the first thing they would say, Who are you, where are you from, who's your family, you know it's some version of those three questions. Depending on when, when I would see them. But so, so that's the way that we we figure out how we're going to talk to each other the how we're how this relationship is going to go. Who's your family where are you from, so it's like, oh, you know, my last name is Metcalfe, which is not a very popular name back home, but my dad last name is Persian, and then they're like, oh, okay, all right and then just right then they know who you are what family you come from, and that is how this relationship is going to move forward from here, and a good way.
ADRIENNE: Thinking about you both are very immersed in this Native fashion world, and the conversations that we have in Native fashion. I feel like both of you are kind of at the forefront of the ways that we talked about what fashion means so for folks who aren't familiar with the Native fashion scene, do you think maybe one or both of you could talk a little bit about how you see defining Native fashion? Because you both talk brilliantly in the past about like the ties to quote unquote traditional clothing or Jessica often says our ancestors were stylish and the ways that we clothe ourselves and how that kind of evolved to this moment that we are in Native fashion.
JAMIE: Well, I wanted to get into the fashion world as a whole when I was younger. I would think about I didn't want to be the, you know, Native fashion designer I wanted to be a fashion designer and kind of just be mainstream and be with everybody else, but I think getting older and maturing my thoughts. I love the idea that I, yes I'm a Native fashion designer. I love that because you can see Native designs, every season, whether it's New York, Paris, Milan, you're gonna see Native design not done by a Native. So I think we have, it's amazing. We can do that, and it's it's authentic, it's real and nobody else can do it as well as we can. So I mean I just, I love what I'm doing and that people resonate with it, and not just Native people I I want to share my culture with people who appreciate it because they do that's why they're doing it. But now you can have it from someone who knows where that came from. Or understands it. And so I just, I'm very, very grateful that I have an audience, beyond the Native audience, and it's, I just, I'm so lucky that I get to do this every day.
ADRIENNE: Thank you. And to contextualize Jessica's thoughts before she launches into them. Jessica wrote her dissertation on Native fashion and traced the history of Native fashion and interviewed a ton of different designers for that project and that's kind of the origins of Beyond Buckskin is through that work so Jessica has this like very large kind of contextual view of the, of the scene as well.
MATIKA: Personal note about that time I saw I met Dr. J was you were giving a talk at the heard museum and I had never heard of Native fashion, and somebody that got it, studied that, like, like my mind was blown and then she stood up there in like this beautiful dress with like these dangly earrings and the red lips and her hair and the whole thing. And like blew my mind so I just want to acknowledge that.
JESSICA: Thank you. So yes, I wrote my dissertation on Native fashion, and whenever I meet people and tell them that you know I work with Native fashion designers, the first thing that they kind of like whoa, there’s Native American fashion. And, and then you know I'm offered the opportunity to say yes you know we've, we've had Native American fashion as a movement since the 1940s, and 50s. At least, that's when we had Lloyd Kiva New who is a Cherokee fashion designer, actually, like, label himself as a fashion designer that's when it's really really kicked off, and the movement has been going in waves since then since the 40s and 50s which is so cool. There was amazing stuff going on in the 70s and the 90s and now. Right now we are at this amazing moment where new designers are constantly popping up and just creating drop dead gorgeous things that we have to have because we've never had this opportunity to express ourselves in this way in our lifetimes. And this is the first time in about 100 years that Native American made fashion is accessible and it's because of the internet and it's because of our, our mobility that we have. We're living in a truly amazing time. And I love this, this field that I'm in because it's endlessly exciting and creative, like, oh my god I get to work with artists, every day.
MATIKA: Jessica when you were doing your dissertation, you were doing this sort of work what was like what's something that just really stands out to you about Native fashion that you would like other people to be sure that they know?
JESSICA: Well first of all, something that really stood out is probably not the answer you're looking for, but was the reaction to people when, when I said that I'm writing about Native Native Native American fashion for my dissertation research. I think the majority of people don't see it as a legitimate field. And that's, that's what I have a problem with. No we've had our men and our women decorating our bodies, since the beginning of time. This has always been there for us. This is one of our most basic human activities is to decorate the body. And so that is something that I want people to know we all engage in fashion even, even if we think that we don't oh I don't do fashion I just put on clothes. You pick those pants. You picked that shirt, sir. you know, it is fashion. And so that's that's what I want people to know.
ADRIENNE: I clearly am someone who writes some things about cultural appropriation all the time and Jamie you even brought it up in your answer a little bit earlier about how every fashion season we see Native designs on the runway but they aren't made by Native people. And so, there's two parts of that so first of all, I'd love to kind of hear your thoughts and responses to kind of where we are in a cultural appropriation conversation. And then also, what the role of that is in our conversations around Native fashion like it often feels like we aren't allowed to talk about Native fashion without talking about cultural appropriation. So, first part is just how you see this kind of cultural appropriation conversation rolling these days and the ways that it intersects with what you do.
JAMIE: So yeah, it is a double edged sword, it really is because there are, I'm more to where they're going to do it. You can't stop it, but you can make people aware of it. I don't get so upset as I used to unless it's blatant. I think I put this post maybe about a month ago, I mean, outright it's like a copyright situation where it's, it's, like, down to the colors. And so, but I think that's a different, that's a different issue as far as appropriation, I. It's irritating, but I don't it's really hard because I have so many people now asking, Can they wear it? Can they buy from me? Whereas I didn't have that before. And of course you can. Otherwise I wouldn't be selling it. We you know we have to pick our battles I think really really carefully. Do we want to go there with someone who's doing some, you know some ridiculous, but then there is. Where's that line, how do you choose them? And it's all personal preference I think but we I think we do as a whole, have to be very careful. And I think we also need to change our language. When we call someone out about it in a more educational understanding and understanding that those people that are doing it, they don't know, they really don't and attacking that person is not going to have them listen to you. They're not going to hear it. I, you know, I, I'm changing the way or at least I tried. When I get those questions those awkward weird questions rather than getting mad about it, you just sort of live in teepees. You know, it's no more WTF. It’’s no, there's an easier way to educate people I think and I think we all do that I think it'll get a little bit easier and we'll see less of it if we're willing and people are willing to listen and if we educate in a nicer way, I think.
ADRIENNE: Yeah, I mean it's hard. It's definitely like the frustration builds up from all of the times we've seen this and it's oh my god it's the 12th one I've seen this week. But, yeah, it's definitely these conversations are never easy for anyone involved. I think they're, they're very difficult, and I did want to ask you because you have this talent for being able to find the source material. So, like, maybe we can actually tell the story of the Christi Belcourt Valentino collaboration gone wrong, but, um, Jamie you were able to find the actual moccasins that they had ripped off and you have sent me pictures before like ones from museum collections. And so, just curious about how do you have just the catalogue of these pieces in your head, are you able to go out and look for them like how does that work?
JAMIE: Yeah, it's really weird when it comes to design, especially within our world. Native art world. It's almost like I have a photographic memory. And because I love it I mean I've been immersed with this since I was a little little kid, and I really if I see something, and it can be like those pictures that I sent you Adrienne they were like, really tiny. You know, just-. Yeah, I mean, little photographs on Instagram have a little tiny bag and I'm like I know that design. It's in one of my books. I’m gonna find it. So, yeah. When it comes to design I really do it's, it's, it's all there.
ADRIENNE: Well, and I think that's still
JAMIE: Better watch out.
ADRIENNE: Yeah, well I think that's what most non Natives don't understand is that when we're talking about cultural appropriation, these designs come from somewhere like those moccasins belong to someone they were beaded by someone they belong to a community, a family, a person, and that gets erased when it just ends up you know on the mass produce thing. And when you have that memory to be able to go back and find the original one, it shows the power of that like that these are things that belong to people and it's not just as Jessica calls it the free bin.
JESSICA: Exactly, yes, I've called it the free bin because for some reason with with our cultural stuff, people think that it isn't owned by anybody, it wasn't made by any specific person. It's not owned by a specific family, it doesn't come from a specific tribe. It's just in the free bin for anybody to use and reach into and say, Oh, I would love to you have, you have these beaded moccasins in my collection with mass produced them. And I think this is coming out of the huge sweep in the 1800s of just mass collecting our cultural stuff and just taking it from our people and from our communities during the huge assimilation push. So now we have all of our stuff, you know, a lot of our stuff in museum collections are erased from the artists erased from the family, sometimes it has a tribal affiliation on it. And if we're talking about provenance. It's only the you know the white people who collected it is the provenance. It was collected by this white man who gave it to this other white man who gives to this white woman, maybe. And that's the provenance but no it's not it's not it's our, it's our stuff you know we can, we have this huge rupture of when this stuff was taken away so we're trying to remember what designs come from what families or what communities or what tribes, and we're trying to reclaim that stuff, and it makes it so hard whenever you have these large brands that are confusing it more and making it worse, even for our youth our, you know, Native youth that are are taking cues from pop culture of who they are as a Native American person, or have somebody of mixed descent. You know what does it mean to be Native? And that's why we we really need to reconnect with, with the youth and, and our stuff, and say hey you know this, this is, this is valuable. This is ours. This isn't meant to be reproduced mass produced by people who have no connection to Native people will not be giving back to the Native communities will be profiting off of this stuff, and will be furthering their own careers.
MATIKA: Yeah, I think like that the conversation around misappropriation and cultural appropriation that really resonates with me as an artist is the idea of taking something that belongs to us, profiting off of it and then not giving back to the community. A good example of this company is Pendleton. I think, you know, I mean, for years you've had a woollen mill mills company that is taking Native designs and not crediting any artists, and then sending cease and desist to be artists when they actually use your work in actual Native designs. And then, very, like, you're not involved in the community at all, Pendleton.
JESSICA: They were actually found guilty or in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, they are, they're found in violation of that act and that act is a truth in advertising act meant to protect Native American artists from these other vulture cultural vulture companies that want to confuse consumers into thinking that they're buying authentic Native American made goods. And so the fact that they were found in violation of that act is powerful and a lot of people don't know that
ADRIENNE: They did a job of hiding.
JESSICA: It was settled out of court, and after selling you know countless blankets, they ended up having to donate what $50,000 to a specific school in South Dakota. That was what they settled on and I think that that's incorrect because Pendleton has made has built their little empire off of selling the Native and confusing consumers into thinking that they actually work with Native American artists and communities and give back to a scale that they're that they're not. I've had these conversations with the family at Pendleton and, and they said that they would give me their documents or show me their share their documents of what they give back to Native communities and I'm waiting. It's been. When was I in Portland, two years, three years
ADRIENNE: Oh that was forever ago.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah, waiting to see on what you give back.
MATIKA: Beyond that, if you could employ Native people too, that would be great.
JESSICA: Anything, give us scraps, we don’t ask for much.
MATIKA: We take some scraps actually put them into our actual designs.
JESSICA: Literally, it doesn’t take much to appease us, it really doesn’t we just want some respect and honor and Adrienne you've said this countless times there's no respect and honor in taking and not giving back.