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Daily Dose — Nelson’s Naomi Bourque Presents a Collection at Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival

Ari Lord
By Ari Lord
June 16th, 2024

Naomi Bourque of Nelson was selected to participate in the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival (IFA) in Toronto from May 30th to June 2nd.

Bourque will present her collection on the festival runway during the Festival, which was a collection of ponchos are inspired by what one might wear while harvesting traditional medicines, particularly those used by the Gwich’in people of the far north, Naomi’s nation.

The Fourth Biennial Edition IFA Festival will take place over four days with 100+ Indigenous artists, designers, makers, brands and pundits from Canada and worldwide. IFA Festival features runway shows and a 70-vendor marketplace at CF Toronto Eaton Centre, with the Fashioning Resurgence symposium and workshop series at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Student Learning Centre.

Being part of this festival has been a very personal experience for the artist.

“It’s been a full circle that I felt so disconnected for most of my life and now representing my nation with traditional, fairly contemporary designs. My mom’s a trade furrier, so I’m using fur for each piece. And then some of the fur that I received from her is vintage from my grandfather’s travels. It feels like everyone is part of me and this is a real labor of love.”

Bourque was born and raised in Yellowknife, North West Territories (NWT) and is of Gwich’in and Metis descent and has always been inspired by her cultural heritage and the traditional art and clothing that represents the Indigenous people near and far from where she comes from, the Mackenzie Delta of the NWT.

Growing up on Latham Island in Yellowknife surrounded by the water of Great Slave Lake, and spending childhood summers on the Deh’Cho (Mackenzie) River at her grandparents’ camp, inspired her love and appreciation for the beauty of the wild, and of wide-open spaces.

Creating the collection has been a long process.

“It’s been a lot of work,” says Bourque. “I started the collection while I was a textiles student at [KSA]. I started that early last year and then based on a few of the ponchos that I made in my class, I applied to the indigenous fashion arts. Then I had to fulfill the body of work, which was ten ponchos.”

Blending traditional materials with contemporary techniques allows Naomi to pay homage to her cultural heritage, whilst giving her work a distinctive edge. Using materials from harvested animals that could be overlooked, such as antler, horn, bones, teeth, claws, fish skin, etc, she strives to implement the Indigenous value of using all parts of animals harvested.

“They’re based on the same pattern, but I’m using a lot of different techniques, fabrics and hides. Every one is a real learning curve,” says Bourque. “Each look is based on a very specific plant that my First Nation would traditionally use for medicine or tools or shelter or toiletries. So this has been a real reconnecting process for me. I didn’t grow up on my homelands.”

Bourque completed the Jewellery and Small Object Design Program in 2013 at KSA and the Sculptural Metal Program at KSA in 2015, and the Textiles Program at KSA in 2023. She is currently an artist resident at KSA.

She has found the school to be highly supportive of her artistic endeavours and her time studying has informed her collection. Using equipment like screen printing, for example, at KSA has helped her along her process in preparing for the festival.

Bourque, who sells her jewellery online, has been making jewellery for twenty years. Her online jewellery income has supported her artistic career.

She learned how to tan hides during an online course during Covid, and also learned how to make fish leather. But she felt like she needed to develop her sewing skills.

“I’ve always dabbled in sewing. My mother was a trained furrier, so there was always fur around and crafting stuff and fabric and things, but I had never been formally trained.”

She has received much interest in her collection and hopes to present it locally after the festival.

Learn more about Bourque by visiting her website or Instagram.

Bourque’s festival pages are found here and here.

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