Suquamish Tribe Rocks its Sovereign Style

Annual fashion show returns with new twist

Suquamish culture, creativity, and couture were on all full display April 22 as the Suquamish Foundation showcased its annual Sovereign Style fashion show at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.

Diminished in recent years due to the pandemic, with in-person shows canceled and shifting to online-only presentations, Sovereign Style returned to the runway with a roar this year. In a new twist, Suquamish models wove their way along a serpentine runway, strutting their stuff through the Indigenous Strength & Wellness exhibit now featured at museum.

“We’re really excited to bring it back, we’ve had a lot of requests to bring it back, and this partnership with BIMA was perfect,” said Suquamish Foundation Director Robin Little Wing Sigo opening up the show. “This will be a different fashion show than you’ve seen before. This is one that’s not about the runway, it’s about the journey – the journey the Suquamish People have made over the last 100 years to survive, preserve, protect, heal, reawaken and celebrate ourselves.”

All of the models and designers this year were from Suquamish families. “They will journey through this museum, close to you our guests, so you can get a macro and micro perspective of the beauty and strength that we had to lay to rest due to colonization and now we get to bring back.”

Chelsea Jones showed off a purple-woven ribbon skirt she designed and created in honor of her grandmother Mima, who made Jone’s first fancy dance outfit.

Wendy Boure and the Purcell Family displayed their heritage of both Suquamish and Blackfeet ancestry. Teiyanna Young-Boure modeled her great-grandmother’s intricately beaded regalia.  Wendy Boure showcased her own traditional regalia, featuring a vibrant red background and her grandfather’s signature along the bottom.

Boure’s regalia was designed and created by Serene Walker of the Southeastern, Lower Perdido Bay, Muskcogee Creek, with a belt made by Boure’s grandfather, Percy Bullchild.

The tradition of passing down regalia “provides the binding of ancestors to us and future generations, the sacred web. The disruption of this web through the termination and assimilation eras was devastating,” Sigo explained. “This could have been the end of these ancestral teachings but no, we had our own cultural warriors, who crept into our history and found the clues and lessons of our ancestors.”

Suquamish Tribal Elder Peg Deam was celebrated during the show as one of those cultural warriors, as well as an artist, matriarch, and mentor to many in the tribe.

“Peg researched and recreated replicas of regalia from photographs in the archives. She taught others these techniques and awakened the Suquamish Song & Dance Group,” said Sigo, as Deam received a rousing round of applause.

Rebecca Purser continued the show, wowing onlookers with cedar regalia by Deam, along with jewelry made of dentalium and other seashells.

Crystal Purcell dazzled onlookers with an outfit made by Denita Holmes. The piece, called “In the Sun” featured sun-bleached wool with subtle shimmering colors. Kate Ahvakana created the outfits for her daughters Shyla and Nettle, while their dad, Toma Villa, wove their hats.

“Our children are often the reason that we start making regalia and delving deeper into our culture. The joy of seeing our children bathed in the clothing of our ancestors is overwhelming,” said Sigo.

Kynoa Sipai wore a cedar-woven headband with a beaded medallion by Calina Lawrence and Katelynn Pratt wore wool regalia created Suquamish artist and master weaver Danielle Morsette.

Illyauna Purser showed off another Danielle Morsette creation, featuring a twill woven dress with twined mountain design. First worn by Illyana’s sister Katelynn in 2011 when she was crowned Miss Chief Seattle Days, the piece was recently featured by the Seattle Art Museum and Vancouver’s Indigenous Fashion Week.

In closing, Sigo told the audience, “you are witnesses to this reawakening. You are now responsible to share the important work Suquamish has done and continues to do, as we walk in sovereignty. In our own sovereignty. On the land of our ancestors since time immemorial, we walk with Sovereign Style.”