Producer of the SWAIA Haute Couture fashion show during Indian Market in August is just one of the many hats this powerhouse wears.
We’re always excited for Indian Market and the SWAIA Haute Couture Fashion show, one of the hot centerpieces of all the activity in Santa Fe. This year’s fashion show lineup — Shy Natives, Sho Sho Esquiro, Delina White, Pamela Baker, Decontie & Brown, Korina Emmerich, Lesley Hampton, Catherine Blackburn, Patricia Michaels, and Margaret Roach Wheeler — has all the hallmarks of a super show.
We recently talked with Bear Robe about Santa Fe and the background that led to life in the fashion lane.
Her Many Hats
Art curator, historian, professor, fashion-show producer, dog and cat mom.
I’m from Canada, under Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, Canada — a Blackfoot from Siksika Nation. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta as well as Nelson, British Columbia.
Growing Up Blackfoot
I grew up as a Blackfoot woman and never had an issue about identity. We had a home on the reserve as well as in Calgary. Summers were spent at Indian Days on the Siksika reserve and at the Calgary Stampede. One of my first jobs was working at the bannock booth at the Stampede. Bannock is Canada’s fry bread. There is both baked and fried bannock where I am from.
How She Got Her Name
My first full name is Amber-Dawn Marie Bear Robe. I have a Blackfoot name: Many Butterfly Woman (Mehya’niisto’panakii). My Siksika name was given to me by Ben Calf Robe during one of the Indian Days powwows after a dream Calf Robe had that butterflies were on a tepee; they started to become animated, swirled, and flew off the tepee. That is how I got my name.
How She Ended Up in Santa Fe
I went to grad school in 2003 at the University of Arizona in Tucson, then went back to Canada to work at Urban Shaman: Contemporary Aboriginal Art. I used to come to Santa Fe for Indian Market, and then eight years ago had the opportunity to move here with my then-partner, film director Chris Eyre [Cheyenne, Arapaho].
Her Santa Fe Inspirations
I love the adobe buildings; the plaza; and living close to a living art form I get energy from, the mountains. The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Vital Spaces, and attending art openings with friends, and of course the best art fix is during the Santa Fe SWAIA market.
A Wonderful Day About Town
The Museum of Contemporary Native Arts on the plaza offers an alternative perspective to the art galleries you’ll see on Canyon Road or the plaza. Also, as someone who lives here, I’d mention a new space on the plaza that opened in March called Vital Spaces. It’s an exciting artist community center that represents many artistic voices. I love hanging out with friends at Noisy Water Winery on the plaza, my second office. I bring my dog, Vegas — a pit bull, Chihuahua, Jack Russell mix — ’cause she likes to party.
Her Personal Style
Heels, skirts, big glasses. I have an eyeglass addiction. My dog, Vegas, is my best accessory.
The Piece She Really Wants
Any of Jamie Okuma’s beaded boots.
Did We See You Wearing a Fabulous Nose Ring?
Yes, I got that nose ring while I was directing a fashion show for Celebration in Juneau, Alaska. It was a hand-carved Alaska Native silver nose ring; I cannot remember the name of the artist.
Indigenous jewelry, historically, is much more significant than simple adornment. Again, the importance varies from tribe to tribe, nation to nation. What an Indigenous person may consider jewelry might mean something completely different to the maker and wearer.
For example, beaded amulets, from where I am from, Siksika Nation, have a specific purpose and role when worn, which would not be understood by an outsider.
Also what is “taboo” for one tribe may not be for another, such as using certain animal materials or incorporating certain animal imagery. There is no pan-Indian explanation for Indian design and jewelry. But the general public does not realize this due to the fact that they have been fed the generic Hollywood and Edward S. Curtis Indian, both of which are based in fantasy and fiction.
This year’s SWAIA Haute Couture Fashion Show takes place during Indian Market on Sunday, August 18, at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased at swaia.org (they go fast!). Hoop dancer Shandien Larance (Sonwaii) of Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, will open the fashion show. If you can’t make it in person, the show will be live-streamed at swaia.org.
Photography: Courtesy Amber-Dawn Bear Robe