Native American Oscar Dress Designer Explains Native American Fashion And Pow-wow Participation Etiquette

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Native American Oscar Dress Designer Explains Native American Fashion And Pow-wow Participation Etiquette

Red Berry Woman, Native-American Fashion Designer

My name is Norma Baker-Flying Horse, my Native name is Red Berry Woman (also the name of my Native American fashion line) and I come from the Hidatsa Tribe of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation of North Dakota as well as the Dakota Sioux Tribe of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation of Montana. I am a member of the Prairie Chicken clan of the Hidatsa tribe and actively participate in our cultural gatherings of song and dancing also known as “pow-wows”. I dance what is known as the “old style or original style” jingle dress. Thanks to my mother and grandmother’s teachings, I am able to bead and sew so that I may participate in our cultural events. These abilities also led to the start of my own business, a Native American-inspired fashion line known as Red Berry Woman.

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This dress has what we call dentillium shells. Those were used as currency for Native Americans at one time.

My design work for my line consists of every day clothing and formal wear, which incorporates Native American cultural aesthetics. The line’s purpose is to represent who we were as Native People while embracing the everyday clothing that was once forced upon us during the creation of reservations and the boarding school era.

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The white top and sparkle skirt is made of buckskin with bead work. Buckskin was used for various purposes in our attire when we lived on the plains.

My work has been worn across Indian Country from pow-wow people to pageant queens to Tribal politicians. The highlight of my year, possibly my life, was having a gown I designed and created appear on the Oscar stage. The gown was worn by a young lady named Alice Brownotter. Alice is an activist in the No DAPL fight on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. She joined nine other activists onstage during the Andra Day and Common performance. The moment of seeing my gown on television had to be the most surreal moment I’ve had as a Native American fashion designer.

Native American Fashion Designer-Oscars

Native American Fashion Designer-Oscars
The Oscar dress worn by activist Alice Brownotter on stage (second in from the left).

I currently live on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota where I make my home with my husband and five children. I married my husband, Elmer Flying Horse in 2009 and have since helped him raise his four children who all dance and sing at various pow-wows throughout the United States and Canada. In our culture (each tribe I come from), we don’t call our children stepchildren. They are your children. I’ve raised my husband’s four children no different than if they had been birthed by me. I’ve taught all my children to bead and to sew so that they may continue to participate in our cultural gatherings and pass on these teachings to their children long after I am gone.

This past November of 2017 I gave birth to their youngest brother, my first child. My son, like my other four children, has been a blessing I can’t describe. I plan to teach him all that I have taught my other children, and look forward to someday watching him dance alongside his older siblings.

Native American Fashion Designer
Red Berry Woman (center) with her models.

Traveling As A Native American Woman

I was fortunate to have a mother who ensured that my siblings and I traveled. It was mainly to other Pow-Wows in various locations. In those travels we learned about other tribes, cultures, traditions, and just people in general. Also, growing up as an “army brat” until the age of 11 helped me see more of the world as I was growing up. This upbringing  shaped me into the open-minded person I am today.

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Red Berry Woman (left) with one of her designs

As I grow older I continue to travel for pow-wows, leisure and work. However, how I am received when I travel is different because I don’t look like your “typical Native American”. The image Hollywood has portrayed, that “Pocahontas” image has pigeon-holed us into how we “should” look. When people find out I’m Native American, I can see on their faces that a stereotype was broken before their very eyes and I love that feeling.

Native American Fashion Designer
Red Berry Woman in her showcase studio.

Advice For Participating In Pow-wows

Everyone is welcome to come and watch our pow-wows as they are open to the public. All that is asked  is to be respectful of other people who are also in attendance; Native or not, dancing or not. Participation at pow-wows is sometimes encouraged for Non-Natives during certain times of the program such as “intertribal as”. This is when all dancers and spectators are welcome to come out to the dance floor and enjoy the music.

Native American Fashion Designer
The ribbon dress was a cultural dress for various tribes when satin became a commodity of trade with the White settlers. Therefore you would see it in a lot of dresses worn among the Plains tribes.

Our competition with the different dance styles can certainly be something to see. It is during this portion of the program that all dancers and singers wear the best of their regalia and showcase their dance styles and songs. Regarding photo-taking during these events, dancers are made aware that photographers will be present in the crowd. A lot of times their pictures may be taken and used for advertisements or other public printing uses.

Native American Fashion Designer
What I’ve done is a New-Age ribbon dress with sequin fabrics and design work known as Ledger art work on the ribbon.

The bigger commercial pow-wows would include the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, NM. This pow-wow will have a fee at the door to attend. Other pow-wows such as those on the Indian Reservations are usually free to attend. Often times they have protocols that are specific to that Tribe’s culture and traditions.

The black dress worn by the young lady is the first of its kind. It’s a one shoulder sequined ribbon ball dress with pockets. It’s modeled after the original ribbon dress and what is now seen at events such as prom.

Other cultural customs for myself and my family include the sweat lodge or rather my “church’. This ritual consists of song and prayer. These are not open to the public for viewing and participation is based on invitation or personal regiment. Most cultural customs are based upon upbringings such as naming ceremonies or procedures in burying the deceased.

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Being An Ally

I think for any outsider of any culture, educating yourself the best you can is the best way to help. As for attending pow-wows, non-Natives are more than welcome to participate in that part of our culture. It is a great way to travel, get involved and see a small part of the fantastic tradition that we still keep alive today.

About The Author

Red Berry Woman is a fashion designer with a Native American-inspired fashion line by the same name. Her attention to bridging Native clothing and traditions into modern wear is apparent in her popularity with celebrity clientele, including an appearance at the Oscars. She says her clothes are for everyone. They reflect traditional wear but are not traditional wear. So to snag one of her outfits, visit this website or find her by pressing one of the social media buttons below:


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