It’s been two months since the San Francisco Arts Commission opened The Continuous Thread — a landmark exhibit celebrating the indigenous community after the groundbreaking takedown of a colonialist city statue. Now that the exhibit is coming to a close, the SFAC plans on capping off its legacy with a Native American fashion show on Dec. 15.
The fashion show, free to the public, will take place underneath City Hall’s iconic rotunda. Produced and choreographed by Sewam American Indian Dance, it’s yet another symbol of reclaiming space for the indigneous community, whose struggles have been historically ignored by spaces that are meant to uphold democracy. The fashion show specifically revolves around a tragedy that’s been happening across North America: the murdered and missing indigenous women epidemic.
In Canada, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls deemed the epidemic a “genocide” after over two years of research. There’s an onslaught of disturbing statistics: in 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported that there were 5,712 reports of missing indigenous women, but only 116 cases were logged in the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database; in 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that indigenous and black women face the highest homicide rates within adult women in the United States.
Just in San Francisco earlier this year, Jessica Nicole Alva, an indigenous Bayview woman, was found hanging in an apartment. She died a few days later from brain damage. The SFPD ruled it as suicide, but her family suspected homicide, claiming that Alva was in an abusive relationship.
Community members like Barbara Mumby Huerta, an indigenous artist and director of community investments at the San Francisco Arts Commission, feel that the SFPD didn’t do their due diligence in investigating Alva’s death. Mumby Huerta is one of the organizers for the Native American Fashion Show and a leader in The Continuous Thread initiative.
“This was one way for us to bridge between different communities with something that’s beautiful like fashion,” Mumby Huerta says about the fashion show. “And also poignant and moving in ways that can educate.”
The indigenous designers showcasing their work at the fashion show include: Sho Sho Esquiro, Leah Mata, and Patricia Michaels, a runner-up in Project Runway’s 11th season.
Michaels plans on incorporating elements of paper, earth, stone, sand, and metal into her designs. “I’m trying to depict garments of where these bodies might be found,” she says. She’ll also be incorporating metal works made from tools from her father’s blacksmith shop.
“Some of it will look kind of tattered, and some of it will just look so beautiful,” Michaels says. “There will be some writing and some messages and statement pieces about violence.”
The writing will be “sporadic, illegible writing.” “Sometimes I’ll write really fast and it won’t be very comprehensible because it might be misspelled,” Michaels says. Michaels calls herself a “severe dyslexic.” “Sometimes I think that writing is more effective because I think it’s going to add to the mystery of what’s going on with the unsolved files with the Native American indigenous girls.”
In addition to the designs, the fashion show will also be using using poems from San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck’s chapbook, Missing Murdered.
These elements might be subtle sometimes, Mumby Huerta says. But they plan to come together to raise awareness about a long-ignored epidemic that Michaels believes needs immediate attention.
“When a person’s dog goes missing people are crying about it,” Michaels says. “What happened to our Native women and girls?”
Native American Fashion Show,
Dec. 15, 4-6 p.m. at San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl. Free; www.sfartscommission.org