An Open Letter: Chloe Angus Design, Appropriation & Taking Up Space

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.

I Am Still Here

I’ve tried to write this blog post so many times before. The more I tried, the more impossible it felt. I experienced so much pain and before I even had time to heal more pain would come. It felt as though the world was laughing at me, mocking me, rooting for my failure each time I stood up and fell down again. I felt like I was constantly disappointing those around me, and not being able to write this blog post was just another way I was doing that.

Something that helped me get through my writer’s block in the past was the understanding that you need experience to colour your words, so I would patiently go out and experience life knowing that the ink would flow eventually. This time was different. This time no matter how many beautiful experiences life offered me, I still felt this darkness inside myself. Despite the love and joy I would experience, when I would try to write all I could think of was the heaviness in my heart.

When my dad passed away over a year ago, I threw myself into everything. I gave myself away until there was nothing left for me. I experienced an inevitable burnout and emptiness. It was not long ago that I sat with myself pondering why, despite all the gifts I’d received in the past few years, I still felt empty. And then I realized, I had not taken a single moment to be proud of myself, my accomplishments, and the strength that carried me through all the pain because the person I wanted to be proud of me the most was not here to tell me. I’d lost my father, but nothing hurt as much as when I lost my spirit pretending I didn’t feel that pain. And finally, I was able to write again, embracing both the light and darkness. I began to embrace life fully.

I would like to share that experience with you through poetry.
I dedicate this to all of you who’ve stood with me through the pain, to the people on sidelines cheering me on, to those who’ve sat quietly believing in me, and, most importantly, to myself for always finding my way back.

___________________________________________________

I Am Still Here

My heart,
It is broken,
Like it has been broken so many times before
Trying to create a world that I believe in.
I have had doors closed in my face
While the walls are closing in on the person
I am only pretending to be,
A puzzle piece that fits into a society
That I don’t believe in,
A toy for others to play with.
But luckily, I have a strong heart
That beats a song that my ancestors used to sing,
Reminding me that I am resilient.
I hear them whispering in the moments
I am paralyzed with fear
“Don’t give up, just breathe
Because all these things are happening,
But they are happening for a reason,
And we are here.”
When it all becomes too much,
I sit alone with no one to comfort me,
Giving up who I am so that someone else
Won’t have to feel this pain,
Trying to convince myself that
This is what solidarity means,
And in the silence I feel my dad’s arms
Wrap around me,
He tells me, “It’s okay honey,
Because you feel what’s real in a world
Where people are afraid to feel anything.”
These voices speak louder than any demons,
But only when I listen,
So I listen
To my heart, to my soul, to my spirit
That calls me back home to myself
Time and time again.
Can you hear them? Because I do.
I hear them in the kind acts of strangers
That happen in the moments I feel like giving up,
And when I tell myself I’m not good enough
They fill me with love and the tender touch
Of someone who says, “I am proud of you.”
It is enough truth for me to find my own,
To share it with the world,
The one that I believe in,
So I keep speaking, speaking, speaking
My truth like medicine
Removing old band-aids to give the wounds
Enough air to really heal,
Until I am finally able to cry
Rivers dancing with fallen tears
That remind me
I am still here.

My Diego

I first learned of Frida Kahlo in Women Studies class in grade 12, almost a decade ago. I instantly fell in love with her, admiring her creativity, feminism, sexuality, art – her expression of self. A lot of people don’t know Frida the poet, but it’s hard to ignore that even her being was undeniably poetic.

The way she talked about love, too, inspired me. I enjoyed the way it seemed she could get lost in love with most anything. She expressed her passions in a way I wished I could mine as they quietly stirred inside me.

She was in love with the philandering artist, Diego Rivera. I could see the enchantment of two political artists in love, however, their ‘love story’ was plagued with alcoholism, infidelity and tragedy. It was the kind of all-consuming love that makes lovers want to possess one another. For all her magnificence, she was foolish. This made her so humanly relatable to me.

At the time, driven by the naïveté of adolescence, I romanticized their relationship (as many people do.) Metaphorically, I was Frida. I was battling a chronic illness that I numbed with alcohol. I desperately yearned for someone I could share my creative expression with, or even the dark corners of my soul. I so badly wanted to be accepted by another person for all my imperfection and to be consumed by the madness of love.

When it finally happened for me, it was more than I ever could have idealized.

The beginning of my epic love story begins with me. I remember the first time I began to feel comfortable with loving myself: it was the last session of art therapy for sexual abuse victims I would take before going out into the world to face my demons with the new tools I’d learned for coping. I told myself, “I can do this!”

I wasn’t nearly as ready as I thought I was in that liberating moment. I got knocked down plenty with barely enough time to pick myself up and regain my balance before getting knocked down again. It was almost a false sense of accomplishment for a while. I still drank. I still stood in front of the mirror hating myself.

The healing journey takes time.

A lot happened between then and the moment my partner, Josh, walked into my life.

I met Josh on November 4th, 2016 at a friend’s birthday. I’d been sober for less than a year and was slowly making my way in the world. I was okay doing that on my own and okay with accepting help when I needed it, too. I felt that spiritual sense of ‘purpose’ in life and found it increasingly easier to share with others.

His energy was magnetic to me. I wanted to wrap myself up in him instantly. I didn’t. We spent weeks being ‘friends,’ which was more like a platonic relationship of lovers if I’m being honest. Thoughts and feelings of him consumed me in the most delightful of ways. I wanted to know more, feel more. I resisted because I was afraid of what it might mean if I gave myself to another. What if I’m less me?

After a few weeks of courtship, poetry, and spiritual conversation, I finally gave in to myself with a preconceived notion that we spoke to each other’s souls; It reached a point that I knew it’d be more foolish to deny us that than it would be to succumb to the divine feeling of the love between us.

Only a few months later, barely given the chance to enjoy the newness of our relationship, my dad fell ill. Josh’s arms were there to tenderly hold me while I wept the plenty of nights leading up to his death. He wrapped me in an intimacy of love that people only experience with someone they’ve known their whole lives.

Who I was the day he came into my life is nothing compared to who I am now. He changed my life. I don’t say that with the unrealistic expectation that I couldn’t have done it myself or that I owe him everything, but every experience always seems more beautiful with him by my side. I’ve been so hard on myself, and though I don’t need his gentle guidance, I welcome and appreciate it.

He grounds me with his dependability, and I move him with my adventurousness. We’re both artists, so different from each other like Frida and Diego. Unlike them, our love is free, not suffocating. It says, “I have a choice and someone to hold my hand down whichever path it takes us,” and the life we create is a vibrant masterpiece of our togetherness. We are bound by our love for art, culture, social justice, poetry and, of coarse, each other.

Frida Kahlo said,

“Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic.”

I did.

But what’s more is that every day we wake up and make the sober choice to love each other, and if that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The tragedies are the ones we will face together.

Aside

Happy Birthday Dad

Beau and Linnea Dick

Two years ago today, I stood in my dad’s classroom at UBC, my heart beating in my throat. It was his birthday, though I pretended I didn’t remember. See, my dad really disliked his birthday. I’d listened to his passionate monologues about why it was he didn’t enjoy his birthday quite a few times in my life. Overall, it made him uncomfortable – the presents, the singing, the clear intrusion of personal space. He acted as though knowing his birthday was an invasion of privacy, and would grumble every time he came to the realization someone had spilled the beans.

It wasn’t his stark distaste for his birthday that made me nervous, however. The semester was almost over and the students were asked to do presentations. I wasn’t an official student of my dad’s – I simply enjoyed his class. He spent a lot of the term going over Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, lineage and mythology, which had the entire class mesmerized, including me. When it came time for presentations, I thought I’d slink away quietly, avoiding having to speak in front of people. I’m a self-proclaimed social introvert; I enjoy socializing but have never been one for bravado. But this was a special day and I was prepared to take centre stage, journal in hand.

Because I’d exhausted many ideas of what kind of presentation to do and came up with nothing that was short of terrifying, and because it was my dad’s birthday, I decided to pull a bit of a prank on him to lighten the mood (or my mood, rather), while at the same time hopefully making him proud.

And so began my career as a public speaker, as I read the following script from my journal in front of class that day, two years ago on his birthday:

I moved into a new place over the weekend and my roommate, Karen, and I stood in the living area excited that we have a fire place. As we stood there, celebrating the fact, I began to ponder the significance of fire and what it means to me. I’d like to share with you, today, some of my deep thoughts about it.

When I think of fire, two emotions come to mind. One being fury and the other passion. Most definitely these are fiery emotions. When you are angry, do you not get warm and red? And when you feel passionately, does fire not burn steadily in your heart?

Or, perhaps, some of us are made of fire, unafraid to get burned – A phoenix risen from the ashes. I believe that we, as humans, are always being reborn. And when it comes to life, surely, fire must be a symbol of that. Is it not alive itself? I do believe it is. It is also pertinent to our survival, especially in our earliest days with nothing else to keep us warm or to cook our food upon. But if fire is life, it must also be death. We’ve seen its devestations on our forests during a wildfire or what can happen if a building should catch ablaze. Some people have what might be considered an ‘irrational’ fear of fire, but I don’t believe it is. Like all four elements, fire is powerful and we must respect the abundance it provides.

In the Kwakwaka’wakw culture, the fire’s significance connects the underworld and the heavens to us. It is the gateway to the supernatural world, the place where our ancestors reside. As mentioned in class, we burn our Atlakim masks once they’ve been used four times, to be sent back to our ancestors. In ceremony, we sometimes burn hemlock bows to rid us of bad energies. During a potlatch, fire gives us a sense of community as we all come around it, feeling its warmth as we watch our dancers move beautifully around it. In the preparation of fish, you might say, it too brings us together, though cooking the salmon is one of the final steps of preparation.

Our fire is a teacher, full of lessons. In the legend of Raven and how he lost his voice, it was a coal hot off the fire that taught him his mischief is not appreciated. There is another legend where Raven used to once have beautiful white feathers until his mischief caused him to be trapped above a fire, the smoke turning him black.

Many times in my life I have thought my dad as the Raven, always having a lesson to teach. But he is also fire, his soft light gently guiding me. There were times in my life where I was angry with my father – there goes that fire again – for not having enough time to spend with me. It took me a long time and having my own child to realize his love is fire, not extending just to his friends and family, but to everyone. And that fire brings people together. The evidence is here, as I stand before all of you.

At this point I said, “And as a modern example of how fire brings us together…” and pulled out a birthday cake (his favourite; tiramisu), lit the candles and sang “Happy birthday” as the rest of the class joined in in unison.

When the assault on my dad was over he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine smile and said, “I should’ve known you’d pull something like this.” It was the first time I ever remember seeing him enjoy being sung to on his birthday.

It was then I realized that he was right: You should share your gifts because you never know who’s life it might touch.

We were both delightfully surprised that day.

 

#IAmNotACostume

B29379BD-3F9A-42A4-95A8-1ADE2686A02FI’ve worn disguises in shame of my own flesh and blood,

And masks while I laughed at jokes at my expense

Making me uncomfortable

in my own skin.

I’ve undressed myself of strength to fit in with the same society

Who taught me it was okay for others to use and abuse me—

Mentally, Emotionally and Physically—

to sexualize my body.

I was stripped of pride and mocked by “Indians” dancing around me

Until naked, crippled and breathless with only a fragment of spirit left

And nothing but burning flesh

to comfort me.

It was then, in my time of need, my ancestors came to me,

Reminding me of my dignity, dressing me in their resilience

And cloaking me in our traditions;

sharing supernatural gifts.

I wasn’t wearing shoes but I felt Mother Earth beneath my feet,

Just enough to stand my ground and wear my culture proudly.

The wind entered my lungs and I yelled,

my spirit talking loud:

I AM SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS

I DESERVE RESPECT AND JUSTICE

WHO I AM IS MY RESISTANCE

I AM NOT A COSTUME!

 

 

Voice

 

WE WILL NEVER BE FOUND EMPTY HANDED

AS OUR FINGERS WRAP AROUND IDEAS

AND OUR HANDS CARRY CREATION

Excerpt from ‘The Canvas, The Art, The Artist’

                                                                                                  

Last month I celebrated my second published piece when C Magazine launched their autumn issue, ‘Voice.’ It was a collaboration with artist and friend, Jeneen Frei Njootli, offering a poetic response to her piece ‘red roses and lidii.’ I’ve always considered myself a shy person (though others disagree with me). If you ever told me in the past that one day I’d be celebrating my poetry publicly, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

Poetry is raw. It’s emotions spilled out on paper. It’s words when the words escape you. I felt safe knowing that mine was tucked away in my journal where no one else would read it. But how else can you describe an encounter with art — a piece of someone’s being? Truthfully, you can’t. Yet, somehow, responding to art with art seemed the most appropriate way.

The language of the soul.

It is great irony that the title of this issue should be called ‘Voice.’ In working on this project I found a little more of mine and I can speak my truth a lot louder now. 

Get your copy at cmagazine.com/issues/135.