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Native American Artists Honor Traditions, Add Contemporary Twists At Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park launches its inaugural Tribal Marketplace and fashion show this week to highlight Native American artists and Plains Tribes culture. Three of the artists share how they blend traditional and modern design elements.

Inside Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel at Yellowstone National Park, Della Bighair-Stump from Crow Agency, Montana stands beside the white gown she created. The bodice is made of wool and adorned with four triangles made from pieces of pink, yellow and shimmery-blue cloth.

“Wool is one of our main materials for our traditional dresses — the elk tooth dress that we use — and then I bling it up with my traditional contemporary styles of Crow style, and I love working with tulle,” says Bighair-Stump.

The skirt of the dress is made of layers and layers of white tulle, which gives it an ephemeral quality.

Bighair-Stump says she learned how to sew from her grandparents and mother. She started selling her clothes at powwows and then decided to branch out.

“Native indigenous fashion is getting pretty popular now, and so I do fashion shows all over. I went to Paris Fashion Week this past March, and so I was very honored about that, and it was the first time that we did a show in the Eiffel Tower,” Bighair-Stump says.

Bighair-Stump is one of nine artists at the Tribal Marketplace at Old Faithful Inn who will be selling their work, giving demonstrations and answering visitor questions. Artists include clothing designers, jewelers, painters, and people who make salves and dolls. The four-day event will also include a fashion show the evening of June 11.

Bighair-Stump designs and sews her dresses, but lately she says she has struggled to keep up with all of the orders. She says she has started reaching out to other Native American artists to help.

Carrie Moran McCleary of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians provided the beadwork jewelry for the show in Paris. She’s also one of the artists at the Tribal Marketplace and a designer for the fashion show at Old Faithful Inn.

“I’m always excited when we have a fashion show," says McCleary. "It’s such a fun event, getting the energy going in the crowd. It’s a great way for visitors to see what we’re about and that we are still here. You can ask anyone in America, and they think there’s no Native people left. And we are here, and we are making a footprint in Yellowstone Park this week.”

McCleary says she designs her jewelry and clothing for anyone — Native or non-Native — to wear.

“I really want non-Native people to feel like they can wear my work and not be uncomfortable and not feel like they’re being appropriative," says McCleary.

"Because we’ve been wearing non-Native fashion for years and now it’s our turn for them to wear our fashion," says Traci Rabbit, an acrylic artist of Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and the daughter of renowned painter Bill Rabbit.

She looks at her painting of a woman standing tall against a bright red backdrop and a line of running bison.

“She is standing in her own truth, her own conviction. She’s letting the world know I am here. And what I try to do with my art is inspire and empower the younger generation coming up of indigenous women that we are capable and can do anything we set our minds to,” says Rabbit.

Rabbit says she is excited to connect with the other artists at this event and to find inspiration in Yellowstone.

The Tribal Marketplace will include artwork for sale and artist demonstrations at Old Faithful Inn from June 11-14. The fashion show is June 11 from 6-8 pm.