Weaving Tradition with Innovation: A Journey of Creativity and Cultural Empowerment

This month we visited with Rebekah Jarvey, an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. Rebekah is a fashion designer who has used her creativity to take the world by storm. Last year, she designed the 2023 N7 Nike shoe and took her unique collections all the way to France to walk the red carpet. Currently, Rebekah is designing a collection for Native youth as part of Western Native Voice’s 2024 Beyond Survival Youth Conference.

Please start with your background, tribe, where you grew up, family, schools attended, what you are currently doing now, etc:

I’m Rebekah Jarvey, an artisan, fashion show coordinator, and designer, proudly representing my Chippewa, Cree, and Blackfeet heritage as an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe in North Central Montana. I was born and raised on the Rocky Boy Reservation, attended Rocky Boy public schools, and graduated from Rocky Boy High School in 2005.

After high school, I pursued higher education at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, earning a dual degree in Business Administration and Psychology. Currently, I am a full-time employee for the Chippewa Cree Tribe, serving as the Human Resource Generalist while also dedicating my time to my passion for fashion on a part-time basis.

My love for fashion has been a constant in my life, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I created the Night & Day Mask, which gained viral attention. This unexpected success led to a calling for my work, prompting me to start my business and launch my website officially. Now, I’m excited to share my designs with the world. 

What does community organizing mean to you?

It takes a community to help put on a community event. 

Every time I plan the Honor Our Legacy Fashion Show, the community is my top priority because I’m putting on the fashion show for them. The fashion show engages the community by having them participate in various ways, such as singing (host drum group), flag bearers in our local post, and local announcers. 

Community members are the judges for the categories and also take registration. The show’s target market is young people, and those are usually the people who enter the fashion show as models. They usually enter both the competition piece and showcase. These events give them a lot of motivation and fun drug-and-alcohol-free events to look forward to. Some of them have been modeling since the first fashion show. 

I pride myself on taking on this meaningful community project; it’s incredible to see the fashion show grow and expand every year. This year will be the 8th annual Honor Our Legacy and it will take place on Saturday, September 21, 2024, at Northern Winz Hotel and Casino.

Caitlin Ironman models Rebekah Jarvey‘s Night & Day Mask.

How can young people use creativity to organize and change their communities?

Young people can drive change through their creativity. As an Indigenous person, embracing one’s cultural identity is a powerful way for the youth to contribute positively to their communities. In 2022, my “Being Indigenous is So Beautiful” collection aimed to convey this message.

The collection’s narrative revolves around the idea that every Indigenous person harbors unique gifts, whether in beading, sewing, singing, language learning, or dancing. Even if individuals are unaware of their talents, the key lies in practice and exploration. The essence of being Indigenous is beautifully encapsulated in the process of discovering and nurturing these gifts.

Encouraging young people to explore their cultural heritage and express it creatively fosters a sense of pride and serves as a catalyst for positive change. Whether it’s through art, storytelling, or other creative mediums, young people can effectively communicate their experiences, challenges, and aspirations, thereby mobilizing their communities toward collective progress and understanding. By embracing creativity, Native youth can amplify their voices, promote cultural richness, and contribute significantly to the betterment of their communities.

Can you share a pivotal moment or experience that shaped your journey?

A pivotal moment that significantly shaped my journey occurred on June 4, 2020, when the Night & Day Mask I designed went viral on social media. This unexpected surge in popularity became a turning point, serving as a powerful motivation for me to take my passion for fashion design more seriously and make the leap toward establishing it as a business in fashion and design. 

Within a month of the Night & Day Mask gaining widespread attention on social media, I took the initiative to start my website, enabling me to showcase and sell my designs internationally. 

Going from a cool social media moment to having my own international platform was a big deal, and it showed me that when you go after your passions with dedication, cool things can happen!

By embracing creativity, Native youth can amplify their voices, promote cultural richness, and contribute significantly to the betterment of their communities.

Rebekah Jarvey and her RJ models in the streets of Cannes, France during the Cannes Film Festival.

What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome them?

Navigating the journey in a rural area posed its own challenges, particularly the lack of spaces or venues for vendors to sell their products. Additionally, participating in vendor markets required extensive travel, often spanning several hours, which came with its own financial burden.

To overcome these challenges, I had to get creative and resourceful. Establishing an online presence through my website allowed me to reach a wider audience without geographical limitations, which reduced the need for physical spaces and opened up global opportunities to connect with customers.

Adapting to the limitations of a rural setting requires strategic thinking and finding innovative solutions. Embracing the digital landscape and finding cost-effective ways to participate in markets were key steps in overcoming these geographical challenges.

Who were your role models or sources of inspiration when you were younger?

My role models were powwow dancers. I enjoyed watching them when I traveled to powwows, especially if they had beautiful outfits and were champion dancers.

What advice would you give a young person unsure about their future career or goals?

For a young person unsure about their future career or goals, I suggest considering traveling as a valuable and enriching experience. Joining youth groups or clubs at school and participating in fundraising activities can open up travel opportunities.

Traveling as a youth has played a significant role in shaping my character and helping me identify my interests. These experiences broaden your perspective and help you discover what resonates with you. Moreover, the connections you make during your travels can become valuable resources in your journey. Networking with people from different backgrounds can offer mentorship, guidance, and potential career opportunities.

My advice is to embrace the physical and social opportunities to explore. Traveling can catalyze personal and professional growth, helping you understand your passions and aspirations.

Rebekah Jarvey trying on the SB Nike Dunk Lows x N7 .

How do you stay motivated and driven, even when faced with setbacks?

I stay focused on the biggest goal. Motivation can be lost quickly, and when things happen, it could be an easy reason to quit. But resetting my mind and focusing on the bigger goal can be a game changer. It has allowed me to stay focused on my biggest goal. 

Can you share an example of when you had to step out of your comfort zone? What did you learn from that experience?

Sharing my designs and putting myself out of my comfort zone was a significant step. I never pursued it earlier in my life due to the fear of judgment and what people might think of me. However, as I began sharing my creations and traveling the world, I learned a valuable lesson.

Stepping beyond my comfort zone allowed me to discover a supportive community and like-minded individuals who appreciated my work. The fear of judgment gradually faded, replaced by a sense of empowerment and fulfillment. I realized that by embracing vulnerability, I found my voice in the fashion world and connected with people who resonated with my journey.

This experience taught me that growth often lies just beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones. It’s where we find the courage to express our true selves, pursue our passions, and connect with others who appreciate our authenticity. Sharing my designs has become a source of joy and inspiration, proving that taking risks and stepping into the unknown can lead to meaningful and transformative experiences.

Sharing my designs has become a source of joy and inspiration, proving that taking risks and stepping into the unknown can lead to meaningful and transformative experiences.

RJ Models from left to right: Leiloni Hugs (photo: Les Fly); Dawn Trapper (photo: AMA Imagery).

What skills or qualities are most important for young people to develop to succeed in their chosen paths?

One crucial skill for young people to develop to succeed in their chosen paths is discipline. It’s no secret that friends and family might invite you to various social events, and while those are undoubtedly enjoyable, balancing social life with your aspirations can be challenging. Discipline becomes the key to navigating this balancing act.

The discipline to stay focused on your goals, even when faced with tempting social invitations, is essential for long-term success. It requires putting in the hard work and dedication consistently. While saying ‘no’ to certain social events may be tough, the rewards of staying committed to your dreams can be incredibly fulfilling.

How do you balance personal passions and professional responsibilities in your life?

I’ve found creating and adhering to a structured schedule, attempting to allocate dedicated time for both aspects of my life. I have been navigating this for four years. It’s an ongoing journey of finding harmony between personal and professional pursuits, recognizing that adaptability is key to navigating the complexities of a busy life.

In your opinion, what are the most pressing challenges or opportunities for young people today?

There are a bunch; however, drugs and alcohol are still the most pressing challenges. 

I feel like if our communities had control over drugs and alcohol, our young people could have more opportunities in life. Most challenges in my life came from drugs and alcohol, and that’s why today I’m proud to say that I live a drug-and-alcohol-free life. 

How do you envision the future, and what role do young people play in shaping it?

I envision a future marked by numerous successful Indigenous individuals seamlessly integrated into mainstream spaces. Young people play a pivotal role in shaping this future by actively contributing to and participating in these spaces. They can break barriers, challenge stereotypes, and redefine what success looks like. By embracing their unique perspectives, cultures, and talents, young people can pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse world. As I see it, the future is a canvas waiting to be painted by the aspirations, achievements, and collective impact of the younger generation to prove that being Indigenous is so beautiful. 

Can you share advice or a mantra that has guided you throughout your journey?

Growing up, my mother often instilled pride in me about my tribal identity. She would say, “You are a Chippewa Cree girl.” I carried this pride when I left home to attend university in North Dakota by bringing my traditional clothes. Through this encouragement, I began to understand the importance of representing my people and being proud of myself as an Indigenous woman. 

Today, some Native American youth do not receive similar encouragement. They are lost and do not have confidence or pride in their identities. To combat this issue, I want to continue implementing fashion shows across Indian Country by promoting self-confidence and pride in our identities. The mantra of being proud of who we are and where we come from serves as a guiding light in my mission to empower and uplift Indigenous voices.

Royce Jarvey wearing the Nike SB Dunk x N7 Shoes.

Don’t let self-doubt hold you back, and be ready to seize opportunities that come your way. Embrace the unexpected, trust in your abilities, and know that sometimes, the most extraordinary paths are forged from the most unexpected turns.

What projects or initiatives are you currently working on that could inspire or involve young people?

I am working on the “Survival to Fashion” collection, a project designed specifically for youth empowerment. This collection features upcycled elements as part of its ready-to-wear line, combining sustainability with style. The aim is to blend tradition and modernity, seamlessly weaving cultural elements into everyday fashion. Through this initiative, I aspire to inspire confidence and nurture a strong cultural identity among young individuals who wear the pieces. The “Survival to Fashion” collection serves as a platform to celebrate heritage, encouraging the younger generation to embrace their roots while staying fashion-forward.

What is one thing you wish you had known or done differently when you were younger?

One thing I wish I had known or done differently when I was younger is not to listen to the negative things people told me. As a teenage mother, I faced numerous challenges, and unfortunately, I let the negative opinions of others affect my mental health. Believing and internalizing the judgments of adults had a significant impact on my well-being during that time. Looking back, I wish I had been more resilient and confident in my abilities, disregarding the negativity surrounding me. Learning to trust my instincts and believe in my own strength could have spared me unnecessary mental stress and empowered me to navigate challenges with greater resilience.

How can young people balance their ambitions with self-care and a healthy lifestyle?

Juggling big dreams and self-care is all about keeping it real with a schedule and discipline. Balancing ambition and self-care is all about finding your chill while chasing those dreams.

What message would you like to convey to young individuals facing self-doubt or uncertainty about their potential?

Just keep creating or working on your craft. And if you are around people who don’t encourage you, stay away from them. Or if you can’t stay away from them, find someone who believes in you and then take that belief they have for you and start believing in yourself.

Is there a story or lesson from your journey that you’d like to share to inspire young people?

In the early stages of my career, I faced self-doubt and hesitated to embrace my passion for fashion design fully. It took a pivotal moment—the viral success of the Night & Day Mask during the COVID-19 pandemic—to propel me into taking my dream seriously. This unexpected turn of events taught me the power of embracing opportunities, even when they come unexpectedly.

The lesson here is to be open to unexpected twists in your journey. Sometimes, it’s the unplanned moments that lead to the most significant breakthroughs. Don’t let self-doubt hold you back, and be ready to seize opportunities that come your way. Embrace the unexpected, trust in your abilities, and know that sometimes, the most extraordinary paths are forged from the most unexpected turns. Your journey is unique, and every twist and turn has the potential to shape an incredible story.

Rebekah Jarvey (hair: Tawiyaka MUA~ @char_moon_beauty, lashes~ @brandysangwais).