In 2017 I met Chloe through an open call for models on Facebook for her upcoming fashion line. She never represented herself as Indigenous or stated her business was Metis-owned. In fact, her website did not claim her business was Indigenous owned at all. This did not bother me because as a child, when I saw merchandise with my dad’s designs on them on ferries, in gift shops and other business created through collaboration with non-Indigenous businesses, I felt a sense a pride. However, I have come to learn that we have progressed past these times and, as our communities strive to take rightful ownership and autonomy over our own artistic and cultural expressions, it is important now more than ever to support these voices.
From there, I worked with her as a model twice more (alongside my partner Josh) and each time saw Indigenous folks come together to put on beautiful fashion shows… artists, models, aunties, elders, singers, dancers and other performers. These experiences were really fulfilling and I enjoyed seeing the collaboration. She even created a custom size outfit to include my daughter, Sunita, in one of her shows so we could model as a family. During this time, I also saw her Indigenous staff grow from none (as far as I know) to intentionally including more Indigenous voices on her day to day team. It was through these experiences I met a lot of really cool Indigenous folks that I’ve come to admire and some I still connect with today.
During these times, I did have concerns that came to mind. At one of the shows, I hadn’t realized LNG was a sponsor and that lack of transparency upset me and made me feel I was betraying my community. Another time, an Indigenous person who has been known to cause harm to Indigenous people was invited to sing—when Josh and I brought this to Chloe’s attention, she made sure we came to resolution together and apologized for her ignorance. In both cases, I chopped it up to a lack of knowledge rather than a lack of consultation.
However, in Spring of 2019 it was brought to my attention that some people felt Chloe was taking up space. I stood up for her and acknowledged her collaborations, the opportunities she created for Indigenous people, and that I felt concerned that speaking out against Chloe also spoke out against the Indigenous artists that she collaborates with. I was concerned that, with out including the voices of these artists, they were taking away their right to tell their own stories. While I still have these concerns, I’ve come to know this situation is much more complex than any one person or group of people. In response, I also shared some of my own valid concerns around representation, acknowledged that Chloe was taking up space and offered to set up or mediate a meeting.
From then to now, I have never seen Chloe Angus genuinely respond to the concerns of Indigenous community. In fact, she’s always claimed it’s “a small group of people” who are bullying her and trying to discredit her businesses. This does not sit well with me, no matter my own experiences working with her, because allyship is about including all Indigenous voices and not speaking on behalf of them or selectively choosing voices that fit your own agenda. On September 19th, I received an email from Chloe asking for support from her collaborators, and I felt the way this email was framed was not to gather a collective voice, but rather to use our voices to support her business against the Indigenous community who has been calling for her accountability. I opted not to respond to this email.
Then, this article came out last week… I read it. I was SHOCKED. The way that Chloe responded did not represent the Chloe I knew when I collaborated with her. There was evidence presented in this article that made me feel sick to my stomach. One of the most upsetting pieces of information was a past comment made in 2013 about making her collection for the “average white lady” because our designs are “too bold”. She still stands by that comment, as stated in the article, and her overall interview had a tone of dismissiveness. This, to me, was the clearest indication of appropriation—that she feels ownership over the way our Indigenous designs are viewed by the public, and that she alone can make those decisions with out consulting Indigenous community.
This has been so hurtful for me on a personal level. Because of who my dad (Beau Dick) is, the values he shared with me growing up, and his advocacy against cultural appropriation, I have always done my best to be intentional with my own collaborations. I feel betrayed, misled, and deceived. I’ve decided to channel these feelings into this open letter in hopes that it might reach her, but more importantly in hopes that it can contribute positively to my communities so that we can move forward.
I’ve come to learn through this experience that as we progress as Indigenous communities, we need to let go of those who no longer progress with us. It’s no longer good enough for allies to provide opportunities for Indigenous people while still holding the strings behind the scenes, but rather essential now to empower Indigenous communities to create these opportunities and collaborations on their own terms. This can’t happen with non-Indigenous “allies” taking up space in the frontlines of our advocacy, or being the ones telling our stories. Consultation and consent must be at the heart of all Indigenous collaborations with each other and our allies. It is because of this that I will be putting away my Chloe Angus Designs and buying only 100% Indigenous owned from here on out.
Designs by Totem House Designs
I apologize to any of community who I’ve hurt by not acknowledging these concerns sooner. I would also like to send a special thank-you for the labour and advocacy of the Indigenous voices that have come together who’s understanding and patience with me has helped me learn and grow.