Aiming to connect indigenous students across the Ivy League and to showcase Cornell’s unique strength in fashion design, Cornell’s native and indigenous students are preparing to host the biannual Ivy Native Conference March 22-24.
The conference became a recurring event soon after the formation of the Ivy Native Council by Native American and indigenous student organizations at different schools in 2004. The institutions take turns hosting the conference every semester, according to Colin Benedict ’21, co-chair of the Native American and Indigenous Students Group at Cornell.
Each year features a unique theme; the upcoming conference will center on fashion, Benedict said.
“Our theme is ‘Native American and Indigenous Voices in Fashion’ because we’re hoping to showcase the fact that Cornell is the only Ivy League school with fashion majors,” he told The Sun.
According to Benedict, the conference will feature a number of academics who are involved in the fashion industry, including Prof. Denise Green ’07, fiber science and apparel, and Leah Shenandoah grad.
The organizers also plan to invite speakers from outside the university, such as Sage Paul, an indigenous fashion designer based in Toronto and founding member of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. The conference will also include a screening of Emerge: Stone Breaks, a short film that focuses on the models and designers of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto; its director, Evelyn Pakinewatik, also plans to present at the conference.
The event’s keynote speaker will be CEO of Beyond Buckskin Boutique Prof. Jessica Metcalfe, Native American and indigenous studies, the University of Arizona.
“She’ll be speaking on her experience of … founding a fashion boutique that tries to debunk the stereotypes of indigenous people in the fashion industry,” Benedict said.
“[Fashion] is an industry that commercializes native and indigenous symbols,” he added.
Outside of listening to and learning from native and indigenous voices in the fashion industry, attendees can also expect to find a strong and welcoming community that spans across the Ivy League institutions, Benedict said.
“I loved the chance to meet new people and build relationships with other Native American and indigenous students,” Benedict said. He has attended every Ivy Native Conference since arriving at Cornell.
Expecting around 150 attendees, the conference will provide networking opportunities with other students, faculty and staff in the community.
“I’m hoping that we can showcase the fashion industry from an indigenous perspective,” Benedict said. “If any of the attendees are interested in going into that industry, we hope that we can give them the contacts to make that happen.”