A Mi’kmaq designer makes a dress with a birch bark bodice and hopes to inspire young people to learn about the culture

After having been in storage since 2019, a birchbark dress finally found center stage last weekend at an Indigenous fashion show in New Brunswick.

Sgoagani Wecenisqon designed the piece which features a birch bark bodice with stitched Mi’kmaq designs. It also features floral lace details on the long black skirt of the dress.

Wecenisqon, who is Mik’maw from Elsipogtog First Nation, started designing only a few years ago. She hopes her work will inspire the younger generation to learn more about their culture.

“I want to give that back to a lot of young people who don’t know much about it,” she said.

“I think that by constantly recreating and redoing new things with these traditional materials, [that] will inspire many of our young people to get out there and try to learn more about their culture. »

The original sketch of the birch bark dress. (Submitted by Sgoagani Wecenisqon)

Besides young people, Wecenisqon said she hopes her designs will also inspire non-Indigenous people to learn about her culture.

She herself learned from other designers while making the dress.

“I had no experience working with birch bark,” she said.

“The pen never worked. I’ve always been so amazed.

In total, it took her about three weeks to create the bodice, plus more time for the rest of the dress.

“I was so happy that people liked it as much as I did creating it,” she said.

Comfortable and light

Ashley Sanipass of Indian Island, New Brunswick, gave Wecenisqon a roll of birch bark and said she planned to show him how to pick it as well.

She said the dress is something she has never seen before.

“Sgoagani has such a talent for art and what she sees,” Sanipass said.

“When you work with natural materials like this and include them in fashion, I think that’s aboriginal fashion. It literally takes something from the earth and makes a dress out of it.”

Model Rosalie Labillois in the birch bark dress designed by Sgoagani Wecenisqon. (Submitted by Sgoagani Wecenisqon)

First-time model Rosalie Labillois of Eel River Bar First Nation wore the dress on the runway at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton.

Labillois said it was comfortable and light, and not too stiff.

“I just thought about how we are challenging these colonized or European views of fashion and beauty standards, and really redefining our own,” she said.

The dress features Mi’kmaq designs on the birch bark bodice. (Submitted by Sgoagani Wecenisqon)

Most importantly, she said she felt stronger wearing it.

“I’m an Indigenous woman, and that’s how I’m built,” she said.

“I might not see a lot of people who look like me on the track, but I could definitely be that person to show somebody else and be that representation. I feel like that got me really helped boost my confidence.”

Wecenisqon has other elements in the works and plans to continue using traditional materials.

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