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Missing Native American women speak through Great Falls fashion show

Blackfeet designer Belinda Bullshoe brought her fashions to New York and Paris, but last week found her strolling the creaking wooden floors of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art showing 20 amateur models how to walk a runway.

The volunteers are part of the second annual High Noon Indigenous Fashion Show.

“I want people to not only look at my fashion. I also want them to look at you,” she tells the ladies, who range in age from 13 to 64, reminding each to smile and enjoy the experience no matter how nervous they may feel.

For Bullshoe, each one of her designs tells a story, but there’s a larger saga at play here this week. Due to a busy travel schedule, she almost turned down the show, which takes place during Western Art Week.

It was the evening’s theme that convinced her she couldn’t do that.

The fashion show’s goal is to draw attention to the thousands of missing indigenous women across Montana, the U.S. and Canada.

“Even though it puts a fear in me, I still want to get the awareness out,” she said.

As she addressed the models, Bullshoe began with a story.

During her first major fashion show, Bullshoe worked two straight weeks to turn out 15 designs. She flew there on a whirlwind, met the models and got them fitted for their dresses, much like she did in Great Falls on Thursday.

“The day of the show, I expected them to respect my dresses,” she said. “Those are all my babies. I never sell my first designs.”

Instead, some models returned her precious designs with torn seams and makeup stains.

Bullshoe tied the story to respect: the respect she has for the models, the respect she expects in return and the respect she has for the event and its theme.

“Not only is this a theme of missing indigenous women,” she said. “You guys are also telling a story out there.”

Miriam Galarza’s story began a year ago when she came to the U.S. from Peru on a student exchange and modeled designs at the 2017 Indigenous Fashion Show.

A 20-year-old fashion student, Galarza knows what it’s like to want her designs to speak to those who look at them, and she admires Bullshoe’s work.

“I heard about her, and I like the kind of clothing that she does. As a fashion student, I like to take my inspiration from other cultures,” she said. “(In Peru), there is lots of iconography, forms and shapes. I try to reflect that through the fashion.”

Bullshoe designed one red dress for Thursday, which is worn by the show’s youngest model, 14-year-old Keeley RunningCrane.

The significance of the design comes from Canada, which also struggles with missing indigenous women of all ages. Up there, they began the theme of “stolen voices” for the missing women who could no longer tell their own stories. The color red came to symbolize these women.

“I asked, why red?” said Bullshoe. “It’s because an older lady, a grandmother, had a dream one day about her missing granddaughter, and her granddaughter was dressed in red.”

To illustrate the struggle of these women and their families, the show’s designs include details that might be hard to notice but speak volumes once you do, such as patterns that don’t quite line up to symbolize the broken families left behind when indigenous sisters, daughters and mothers go missing.

Bullshoe’s designs and this show widen the circle of people who know about this issue.

Sixteen-year-old Andrea Downard is a junior at Great Falls High School and a model in the show. She heard about the opportunity from one of her advisers. She’s never modeled before.

“I was touched because I’ve heard a lot about (missing indigenous women),” she said. “I thought it was so cool that we’re dedicating a whole show to bringing an awareness to it.”

There’s something exciting, as well, about getting her hair and makeup professionally done and strutting down the runway.

This is the second runway show for Christine Filler of Great Falls, who modeled at last year’s event.

“I love the Native American prints in this year’s designs. I think they’re really beautiful,” she said. “It’s great to meet all of these wonderful ladies and just to be a part of (bringing awareness to) something that is a growing problem.”

Participating in the show has made Filler feel more sure of herself.

“You have to go out there and make yourself be confident,” she said. “You just have to do it.”

Bullshoe heads to Milan soon, where she will continue to take Montana stories to the world outside Big Sky Country and even bring some of their stories back to us.

“I want to wrap my creations around their culture,” she said.

Her sojourns to other countries have earned her the title of “international designer,” but Bullshoe never forgets where she came from or who made this life of hers possible.

“I was blessed not only to accumulate that title for myself,” she said, “but I got to bring it back home to the Blackfeet tribe.”Read more at:pink prom dresses | red prom dresses

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