Artists Take Part in Toronto’s Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival

By Roxann Shapwaykeesic

The Thunder Bay region is sending another batch of talent to the Indigenous Fashion Arts (IFA) Festival in Toronto. The show boasts Indigenous designers, workshops, panel discussions, and a marketplace with over 60 exhibitors.

The Nora dress, part of the NDN Rose collection by artist Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation

Anemki Art Collective consists of dozens of artists from the region and 22 of them will travel to Toronto to showcase their crafts in the marketplace. Longtime beader and collective member Marlene Kwandibens of Whitesand First Nation is participating for the second time.


“I like to go out there and meet people and see if my work is in line or even ahead of the pack…It’s always good to gauge your personal growth when it comes to beadwork,” Kwandibens says. She is showcasing well over 100 original beaded earrings, bracelets, and jewelry. 

Kwandibens’s work, featuring the Beadsmith Centerline Products

The festival will be a chance to see others’ crafts as well as lift up her peers by mentoring newcomers to the sellers table. “I’ll be paired up with someone new so I can coach them. It’s growing your communities. And that’s the aspect that I really enjoy about being a part of the art collective and their activities,” Kwandibens says. 

 Previous examples of the work of artist Marlene Kwandibens of Whitesand First Nation

Meanwhile, on the runway, returning artist Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation is showcasing seven new dresses, each named after the youngest females in her family line. The collection is called NDN Rose, a homage to her great-grandmother. Many of the women in her family have inherited the name Rose in honour of her memory. “I think in a way all my work is about honouring the role of women within our respective families and communities […]  and creating art that speaks to their power, their strength, their leadership,” Pedri-Spade says.


Pedri-Spade learned to sew and work with materials from her mother, a traditional regalia maker. “I always find that making is like healing. She taught me that making things has always been an important part of her healing journey.” 

Pedri-Spade’s the Alyssa dress, part of the NDN Rose collection

Pedri-Spades’s 2020 showcase was described as “wearable art.” And after the birth of her first daughter in 2020, she wanted to do something a bit more personal. Her current exhibit is described as a reflection of the maternal line that is carrying forward and healing through generations of strong Ojibway women—from Rose, to her grandmother, mother, aunts, and cousins finding new life and good medicine in their daughters and granddaughters. 


Formerly known as Indigenous Fashion Week, the festival will take place at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto from June 9–12. It’s the third biennial event showcasing dozens of Indigenous artists from across Canada and the world. Sage Paul, co-founder/executive artistic director of the event, describes his year’s theme, Walking with Light, as recognizing “the relational undercurrents of the visionaries, stewards, knowledge keepers, and connectors we value in our community.”


Pedri-Spade’s exhibition will be included in the June 10 Sovereign Matriarchs curation, and Kwandibens’s art can be found all three days in the marketplace.


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