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Ojibwe designer Delina White advances equity at Native Nations Fashion Night

Two women wear Native designed clothing, with patterns of plants and acorns on black.  Earrings are large, made from beads and feathers.
Gerald White
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and I Am Anishibaabe's Delina White.

April 25 is Native Nations Fashion Day. Delina White, founder of I Am Anishinaabe, has again created an event that features Native fashion from many designers.

LEECH LAKE — For Delina White, the 2023 announcement of April 25 as Native Nations Fashion Day from Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan was a catalyst for change. The change for Delina means communities across the United States and Canada are encouraged to unite with contemporary and heirloom fashion showing the rich tapestry and resilience of Indigenous fashion.

Two women stand on a runway, wearing Indigenous designed fashion, portraying woodland plants and animals and the KAXE logo.
Delina White
Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan stands with designer Delina White in 2023 at the Machine Shop in Minneapolis.

“I’m really pushing that day so that everybody can wear their native style clothing, their native jewelry, whatever it is that they have, to celebrate the heritage,” Delina said on the KAXE Morning Show. “It’s about appreciation and not appropriation ... I get a lot of questions from non-natives who ask, is this okay that I wear a ribbon skirt?”

Delina said it is more than okay, with the caveat of authentically sourcing clothing, jewelry or artwork.

“If you purchase it directly from a Native person, then you know that you’re not going to be wearing anything that’s considered offensive or something that’s maybe ceremonial or for sacred purposes.”

Delina’s connection to Flanagan began with an invitation to her initial show during Fashion Week Minnesota. The relationship was cemented when she was asked to design her inauguration dress and ball gown.

The initial conversation and dress fitting with Flanagan allowed Delina to have creative license.

“I started pulling out my fabrics and my ribbons and I just kind of laid it on the table in the shape of a person, so she could get the idea,” she said.

The lieutenant governor loved it.

“It means a lot. I’m really honored,” Delina said. “I think so highly of her and what she’s done for the Native community.”

This year, Flanagan will not just be attending Delina's fashion show, she’ll be one of the models.

Native Nations Fashion Night 2024

This year’s theme is Messengers, Protectors and Great Mysteries. Delina said she’d always wanted to combine a Victorian Goth feel with Native fashion.

A fashion model walks the runway in a colorful blouse and white skirt featuring fish designs.
Jason Dial, Suite 1941 Photography
A model wears one of Delina White's designs at a previous Native Nations Fashion Night.

For Delina, stories from her grandmother and other elders were all about the great mysteries. She describes the stories she was told about Leech Lake that were a means of protecting the community

“As children, we were told to not swim too far out because that big leech was out there.” Delina said.

This year’s event will feature Delina’s series centered on blanket teaching. Blankets, Delina explained, are traditional to all.

“I was able to relate to everybody about how people feel about their blankets and how it makes you feel comfortable and warm and cozy and safe," she said. "And how it is the difference between life and death for maybe a homeless person.”

Besides Delina’s I Am Anishinaabe fashion, the event also includes designers Christy Ruby, an Alaskan Native Tlingit Indian from Ketchikan; Spirit Lake Dakota Nation’s Rebecca Mousseau and The Restorative Apparel Co-Design Collection at the University of Minnesota, including Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s Sage Davis.

Native Nations Fashion Night will be at Quincy Hall in Minneapolis and will again feature a marketplace of Native designers, music by Native musicians, DJs and food and drinks from Native cuisine.

According to the I Am Anishinaabe’s website, attending Native Nations Fashion Night means you are supporting equitable representation of Native contributions to the fashion industry, combating stereotypes and working to rectify cultural appropriation while providing economic opportunity to underrepresented artists and designers.

KAXE has been a proud co-sponsor for the last three years of Native Nations Fashion Night, thanks to funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Five Indigenous models wear black designs of flowers and fish, with long Indigenous made earrings from birchbark.
I Am Anishinaabe
The 2024 Native Nations Fashion Night has a Victorian Goth feel with the theme of Messengers, Protectors and Great Mysteries.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.