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NWT artists heading to Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival

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Several Indigenous artists from the Northwest Territories will showcase their work in Toronto later this month.

The Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival occurs every two years. The fourth edition is set to take place from May 30 to June 2, featuring runway shows, a marketplace with dozens of vendors, panels, workshops and a gala.

Among those in attendance will be Arsene Betsidea, from Délınę, who will lead a four-day workshop on weaving porcupine quills.

“These are great opportunities for artists to meet one another from different backgrounds and showcase our unique talents,” he said.

Betsidea said he was inspired to learn how to weave porcupine quills after seeing pieces while visiting a museum.

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“I was amazed,” he said.

“As a kid there was nothing around, nothing like that and nobody who knew how to do that.”

Arsene Betsidea will lead a four-day workshop on weaving porcupine quills. Photo: Arsene Betsidea

Betsidea said he learned over time through self-teaching, trial and error, and speaking to Elders.

“I always asked questions and listened to their stories if they had any knowledge about porcupine quills or how to use them,” he said.

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Last year, Betsidea said he became confident enough to begin teaching the skill to others. So far, he has led workshops in Whitehorse and Whatì.

“Now I have a lot of interest from a lot of artists to learn that ancient art.”

‘A form of medicine’

Mishelle Lavoie, the artist behind Capital M Beading, will be attending the festival in Toronto for the second time.

“I thought it was a great learning experience,” she said of attending the 2022 event. “Going again, I thought I could learn more, make more connections, make more friends, meet more people and have fun with it.”

Lavoie lives in Inuvik and her family has roots in the Sahtu. She said she named her business Capital M after the first letter of her name and following the debate over whether the words Indigenous, Métis and Inuit should be written with a capital letter.

Lavoie said she looks forward to speaking with customers about her beading and sharing her story.

Beadwork by Mishelle Lavoie. Photo: Jamie Stevenson Photography

“It’s good to have Indigenous people recognized for their art and their work and to show that there is value in it,” she said.

Lavoie said she recently spoke to an established Indigenous artist who taught herself to bead as an act of resilience after she was told in school that she was “too stupid to learn how.”

“We are capable of this and this is part of our culture, and it’s a form of medicine for a lot of Indigenous people to be able to create things in a new, modern way that their grandmothers used to do,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to show resilience.”

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