Making Remaking

This vest represents an obstacle being transformed into an achievement, one of many for Indigenous Peoples. Western history would have you believe that First Nations and Indigenous communities were and are far behind technologically, that our ways are outdated, that time has forgotten us and that we cannot comprehend contemporary ways – that the height of our achievements are leather fringes, tipis, and fry bread.

Objects like this vest, that clearly illustrate our ability to not only learn how to use new materials but also master new methodologies flawlessly and adapt them into our cultures, prove that sentiment wrong.

But this vest disproves not only stereotypes; I hope it also connects Indigenous communities to the fact that we’ve always been more than what textbooks say we are. Our communities have a right to this knowledge and these practices, and I hope this tutorial reconnects everyone – those from reserve communities, those in urban settings, and those maybe just finding out who they are – to our collective histories. This project is meant to connect us to the ancient practice and intent behind making, regardless of how traditional or contemporary you are or how closely you follow the tutorial. This process of making is the closest we will ever get to our ancestors: the means, material, and methodologies may change but our intentions will always be the same.

About Ana Morningstar

Ana is an Indigenous multidisciplinary artist from Los Angeles currently majoring in Indigenous Visual Culture at Toronto’s OCADU. Originally working heavily in ink illustration and screen printing, Ana is currently exploring textiles as both a medium and methodology.

In this project in particular, the focus was really on activating the vest as a means of keeping culture, ceremony, and tradition alive. Stereotypes and lack of historical context lead many – Indigenous peoples included – into thinking our collective histories and technologies were “primitive” and therefore lacking. However, vests like these clearly prove those sentiments wrong. They show how quickly our communities took to new materials and then altered and adapted them. This project is meant to help give us a look back onto ourselves and activate connections that may have been lost or severely damaged. Ana’s hope is that this instructional series may give current and future generations the means to connect to their ancestors through the vehicle of physical making.

About the Original Artifact

Men’s Composite Dance Regalia, Waistcoat

Dance vest // Dakota, Plains Cree or Plains Ojibwa // Manitoba, Canada // Beaded wool, cotton // c. 1890 // 50.3 x 50 cm

The Anishinaabeg danced on numerous occasions – while collecting food in the community for feasts, as part of gift exchange rituals, during Grand Medicine Society (Midéwewin) initiation ceremonies, and to mark war party departures and victory celebrations. Beginning in the late 1800s, however, these practices faced strong opposition from church and government. Indigenous communities reacted to this measure by inserting their dances into the Settler event calendar, including First and Fourth of July celebrations, agricultural fairs, and treaty payment days.

About the Process

Ana is interested in powwow couture and the influence of western materials and techniques on traditional garment making as a form of adaptation and endurance. Her first question was, ‘how was this garment constructed?’

Her second question, ‘Can I translate this method into a pattern that can be replicated by other Indigenous people?’ She then created a set of downloadable patterns, instructions, and video tutorials to allow viewers to experiment with making a vest of their own.

My decision to offer instructions for the re-creation of a contemporary vest was inspired by the object in the collection at the Royal Ontario Museum and was assisted by images of Barry Ace’s contemporary beadwork and especially his 2010 performance in Paris France, A Reparative Act.

Ace performed A Reparative Act in four parts to honour the Indigenous dancers who visited Paris in 1843 as members of George Caitlin’s traveling dance troupe. He danced in full regalia at four locations in downtown Paris for four of the dancers: Maungwaudaus (Great Hero) at the Louvre; Noodinokay (Furious Storm), at the Jardin des Tuileries; Mishshemong (King of the Loons), at the Place de la Concorde; and Saysaygon (Hail Storm), at the L’esplanade des Invalides to open Robert Houle’s exhibition Paris/Ojibwa at the Canadian Cultural Centre. Images of Barry Ace’s contemporary rendering of traditional dance regalia provided me with an important reaffirmation of the enduring relevance of beadwork in our communities.