Indigenous designer fights MMIW crisis with fashion

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Indigenous models wear Darlene Perkins designs during the Red Lightning Couture Presents MMIW fashion show Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at the Bismarck Event Center. The fashion show was put on as part of the United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leaders Summit. (Photos by Natasha Rausch / The Forum.)

By Natasha Rausch/The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

Models with red and black handprints painted on their faces strutted across the stage wearing Darlene Perkins originals. The women’s dresses were chic and shimmery, and the men’s clothing had obvious Indigenous inspiration.

Perkins, who designed the clothing for the Sept. 4, fashion show in Bismarck No. Dak., said the handprints symbolize the way an attacker will cover a person’s mouth to keep them from yelling and the silence about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The fashion show, titled “Red Lightning Couture Presents MMIW,” was the bookend of the second day of the annual United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leaders Summit at the Bismarck Event Center.

Indigenous women, children and men sat in the audience for the show. Pasted to the stage in front of them were red paper cutouts in the shape of women. Each cutout had a word – auntie, sister, daughter, wife, friend – representing the MMIW crisis. The first model to walk on stage wore a long, red ribbon skirt that read “NO MORE MISSING SISTERS” on the front in black letters.

Indigenous models wear Darlene Perkins designs during the Red Lightning Couture Presents MMIW fashion show Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at the Bismarck Event Center. The fashion show was put on as part of the United Tribes Technical College Tribal Leaders Summit. (Photos by Natasha Rausch / The Forum.)

Perkins, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, said she hopes the fashion show will help bring awareness and education about an issue that affects Indigenous communities across the country.

“We need to start coming together as a society,” she said.

The fashion show is to display “empowerment for Indigenous women,” said Sheridan Seaboy-McNeil, who works at the tribal college.

The proceeds from the event were donated to the First Nations Women’s Alliance, a North Dakota-based nonprofit dedicated to education and awareness on issues related to MMIW.

Sandra Bercier, the executive director of the organization and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said the issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking need to be addressed in order to stop the MMIW crisis.

“If we don’t address all these issues, more of that will continue to happen,” she said.