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The Revenant actress wears Valentino and Métis artist dress to premiere

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Melaw Nakehk'o shares the story behind her 'culturally appropriate' dress

From SheKnows Canada
In a stunning dress featuring the work of an indigenous artist, all eyes were on actress Melaw Nakehk'o on the red carpet of The Revenant movie premiere.

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Everyone’s buzzing about Northwest Territories actress Melaw Nakehk'o and the unique dress she wore to the premiere of the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Revenant. Nakehk’o plays a character named Powaqa, the daughter of an Arikara warrior who gets captured by French trappers. In keeping with her commitment to honour indigenous women through her latest role, she drew attention to the work of an indigenous artist by wearing a dress featuring her artwork.

Melaw Nakehk'o shares the story behind her 'culturally appropriate' dress
Image: Steve Granitz / Getty Images

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On the red carpet, Nakehk’o talked to Android TV about her eye-catching dress, which is covered in colourful imagery of plants. “This is a culturally appropriate collaboration between First Nations artist Christi Belcourt and Valentino,” she explained.

"I think today there's a lot of cultural appropriation with indigenous arts ... being appropriated by non-indigenous fashion designers, and not giving any credit or recognition of where those designs were appropriated from," Nakehk'o said. “So I think it’s really important that I’m representing a First Nations artist who has collaborated on such a high level in fashion with Valentino and to be able to wear that tonight.”

The artist behind the dress

It should come as no surprise that Nakehk’o was drawn to Christi Belcourt’s work. Belcourt is a skilled visual artist who creates breathtaking designs using traditional beadwork. Belcourt has strong roots in the historic Métis community from Manitou Sakahigan (Lac Ste. Anne) in Alberta, Canada, and creates work inspired by the natural world, traditional indigenous spirituality and natural medicine. She works with a variety of materials, such as beads, clay, animal hides and copper, birch bark and plant fibres.

Working with Valentino

This isn’t the first time Belcourt has worked with Valentino. A dress inspired by Belcourt’s painting Water Song — which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada — was featured in his 2016 Resort Line. Valentino’s team worked hard to match the colours and imagery from her painting, printing and embroidering the work onto their dress.

Belcourt told CBC that she enjoyed the process of working with Valentino: 

"You know, it's really lovely to work with designers who respect the artist's work so highly," she explained. "It's not very often that they do, and do so in such a respectful way, and I think it's... it's refreshing.” 

On her character in The Revenant

Nakehk’o didn’t take the challenge of playing the character of an indigenous women in the film lightly.

"There's a systemic problem in North America, in the United States and Canada, with missing and murdered indigenous women," she said on the red carpet. "We are more susceptible to violence than any other ethnic group in North America.”

The actress stressed: "I feel like I had to honour those indigenous women and do the best I can."

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