Written by Chloë Angus
A LOVE Story ♡
Looking back on what was a year filled with hardship, separation, loss, and loneliness for so many, I want to share a moment of LOVE in 2020. Because it is love that heals these hardships and reconnects us after difficult times. As we enter February 2021 and look to celebrate love once more, I thought it was a perfect time to tell this story of true love and connection….to remind you dear reader, that in the long run love is all that matters.
Wedding Dress SOS… I was on a road trip with my husband Gabe for our 20 year wedding anniversary, off the grid and not supposed to be working, when I got an email titled “Wedding Dress SOS” from prominent First Nations business and communications leader, Chastity Davis ; She needed a dress to marry Chief Joe Alphonse, Chief of the Tl’etinqox Nation and Tribal Chairman for the Tsilhqot’in Nation, in six weeks…and she lives 500+ miles from my studio…..and I am in the middle of nowhere trying to decide how to tell my husband I had snuck a peek at my work email. They also needed some gifts and masks made for special guests at their wedding of the century….I would need to get started right away….”um…honey…”
When called upon by the future Ms Alphonse, I knew I had to jump into action. This would be a tricky one, with the wedding being on Oct. 1st in the beautiful and remote Tŝilhqot’in (Chilcotin) Nation (650 miles from Vancouver) and the bride living in 150 Mile House (500 miles from Vancouver) there would be very little time or opportunity to meet with her, to design the right dress, and do enough fittings to make it perfect! Let alone make custom gifts and masks for their special guests.
How I met the bride…and when I met the Chief…
I met Chastity at the Indigenous Women’s Leadership Summit in 2017, after hearing her speak, I was inspired by what she had to say and in awe of her poise and grace on stage. She was well-dressed, with a modern feminine style. You could feel her warm, caring spirit a mile away. I could also feel she was a force of nature, a person who gets things done. I felt lucky to meet her later that afternoon, we chatted easily and promised to stay in touch.
Chasity Davis, Chloë Angus and Laurie Sterritt At The Indigenous Women's Leadership Summit
Sometime later, Chastity introduced me to Chief Joe. He was looking for some custom gifts to be made and wanted to see me about it. Truly honoured by this opportunity to meet and work with Chief Joe Alphonse, Chief of the Tl’etinqox Nation and the Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government. This is a Chief known for his precedent setting negotiation of modern-day Aboriginal title and rights and watched around the world. Twelve years as elected Chief, he is known for his big heart and even bigger stature. Star hockey enforcer in his youth, Chief Joe is also known to take no nonsense, using his experience in hockey to enforce peace and order in his community.
The Dress and sew much more…..
When I meet with a bride for the first time to discuss what the perfect dress for her wedding will be, I try and get a sense of time, location, … and overall feeling of the event. Then I try to get a deeper sense of who she is a person, who she is marrying, and who they will be together. Marriage is about love, strength, and unity, two people joining their hearts, lives, and families.
Chastity’s roots are Tla’amin (Homalco/West Coast Salish), English, and Ukrainian. Chastity’s maternal grandparents were born on the traditional lands of the Homalco Peoples and later moved to Tla’amin where the majority of her maternal family reside today. However, her roots are Homalco and she feels an affinity to the traditional lands and peoples. Chief Joe is a fifth generation Tŝilhqot’in Chief and the direct decedent of Chief Anaham, one of his Spirit animal’s is the bear (the bride informed me of this.
The couple told me they would be having an outdoor wedding on the traditional and sacred lands of Tl’etinqox people . In traditional Tsilhqot’in style, the wedding could not be a private individual event but one that involved the community. It would be the wedding of the century and would bring people and nations together.
The last time a Tŝilhqot’in chief married a Homalco woman was centuries ago when Head War Chief Lhats’asʔin (Klatsassin) married a Homalco woman whom he had a son with. He and his son were wrongfully executed during the Chilcotin War in 1864. Shortly after this tragic and unjust event, Chief Klatsassin’s wife moved back to Homalco riddled with grief as staying in the Tsilhqot’in would have been too hard for her.
I needed to design a dress fit for a queen. A wedding ensemble that could walk down a natural grassland aisle along the shores of sacred lake, come rain, shine, or snow (all of which were possible at that time of year in the wild Chilcotin lands). A look that would captivate the audience and gain the new bride the acceptance and adoration of the community, from watchful Elders to inquisitive youth.
Chastity and I also discussed the days and events surrounding the wedding, there would be traditional introductions, dancing, singing, and gifting ceremonies, a feast, and more dancing under the full moon, followed by a brunch for out-of-town guest the next day.
I got to work right away, thinking about how to bring all this together. After doing some research and letting my dreams create dresses, I presented Chastity with a few different dress sketches, we decided on a convertible style outfit that consisted of a silk ballgown skirt over a slim fitted jersey dress, embroidered sash, and Swarovski Spirit wrap for the wedding day. And an elegant knee length jacket, in cream Italian wool crepe, with hummingbirds embroidered on the collar to creating a sophisticated look for brunch the next day. With this wedding wardrobe, the bride would be prepared for multiple days of outdoor wedding activities during any type of weather.
The ballgown skirt was made from 15 meters of beautiful pearl coloured silk dupioni with tone-on-tone embroidered ravens by Haida artist, Clarence Mills, that my team hand appliqued on either side. It had a high waistband with a sweeping skirt and a slight train that gave the bride a statuesque appearance. On the inside of the skirt, we sewed a small golden horseshoe that signifies good luck in English wedding tradition, a nod to Chastity’s English roots.
The underdress was a fitted knee length style with ¾ sleeves and pleated detailing in cream bamboo jersey. A classy little number that compliments every curve and can be worn for any occasion. It would be worn with the ball gown skirt over top for the wedding, creating an hourglass gown look, and would serve double duty under the wool jacket for the next day’s brunch event.
In Ukrainian tradition, brides wear a wedding sash that is ornately embroidered with flowers, birds, or geometric designs. They also wear a large floral wreath or crown. We incorporated these elements into Chasity’s wedding style, which created the prefect look for her plateau plains wedding.
We made a sash out of the same exquisite pearl silk as the skirt and embroidered flowers by late Ojibway artist, Jay Bell Redbird, across the front in pearl colour thread with Swarovski crystal accents that sparkled in the light. Jay’s widow gave her blessing to the couple, saying Jay loved love.
To honour Chief Joe’s Spirit animal (the bear), we chose a cream colour Spirit Wrap with a Bear image by artist Clarence Mills. My team hand-applied over a hundred Swarovski crystals highlighting the artwork and adding that extra element of wedding bling.
After completing the entire wedding wardrobe, we sent sketches and fabric samples to the florist and make-up artist so they could interpret and co-ordinate the modern, elegant, multi-cultural, multi-nation wedding look we wanted to create. A wreath of greens and red roses and a matching bouquet were chosen as the final touches.
Important gifts .....
As in many wedding traditions, couples give gifts to wedding guests and special friends and family for their participation in the celebration. In Indigenous culture, this is particularly important, there are a series of special gifting ceremonies, performances, and protocols that take place.
For their wedding, Chief Joe and Chastity asked if we could make custom blankets and masks to commemorate the special day. It is an honour and a privilege to be asked to provide such important items; my team and I got right to work!
Nothing about 2020 was easy, for anyone, and this wedding was no exception. COVID-19 almost made it impossible. Restrictions impacted everything from the imported silk we needed for the gown to guests being able to attend.
Appointments had to be done by Zoom and when measurements needed to be taken, we even had to ask the groom to step in and help (Just imagine the big, powerful hands of the Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in carefully taking his brides dress measurements). With only weeks to make it all happen and a 650 km drive to deliver it, the challenges where notable…
With the last stitch completed, Gabe and I loaded up the “Rockstar” size, fully wheelchair accessible, RV, that we rented for the trip, with the brides wedding trousseaux, gifts, and masks, along with everything we needed to be a self-sufficient bubble and headed for Tl’etinqox traditional territory.
We had never been to the Tŝilhqot’in (Chilcotin) area before and I don’t think words can describe how beautiful this part of Canada is. It was like being at the top of the world, long flat grasslands rolling for miles with patches of silver skinned poplar trees and the odd evergreen tree shortened by the winter winds. Everything was golden, as the sun shone across the fall leaves. Herds of horses and cows grazed among the wildlife that shared the land. It is humans that are a rare sight in this neck of the woods. No cellular reception or internet connection, only the ravens report the daily news…. In this day and age of constant contact this is a very rare treat.
It took my breath away to see this place the Tl’etinqox Peoples have called home for many generations. Gabe and I felt so lucky to be there.
When we arrived at Anah Lake (traditional Tl’etinqox name, Ben Chuy), a sacred meeting place for the Tletinqox Peoples, things were bustling in preparation for the Chief’s wedding. The community had come together bringing everything needed for the celebration (including hand sanitizer) to this very remote location. No detail was spared despite the difficulty, this was a proud community showing off their ability to host a monumental event. It included a horse camp made up of a dozen or more horses and riders and a beautiful chuck wagon adorned with handmade quilts on the seats… There were two large tipis set up, one for the bride and one for the groom with an aisle marked by painted red stones connecting the two.
Food was being prepared, tents were going up, tables and chairs set (six feet apart), lighting and sound systems hooked up, and fire barrels filled with wood as guest started to arrive.
The Wedding Party....
The wedding party was made up of all young people, nieces, nephews, and younger siblings, with the exception of one elder, Chastity’s 15-year-old dog, and constant companion, Coley.
The couple told me they chose to have all young people stand with them at the wedding to give them the experience of being on stage and the focus of people’s attention, to speak in front of people, and to learn to present themselves in preparation for them to be leaders in their adult lives. These are valuable life lessons, especially when growing up in small communities. It is so insightful for Chief Joe and Chastity to see this opportunity for the younger generation to gain such skills. This is exactly who Chastity and Chief Joe are as individuals and as a leading couple in their community.
The Groom and groom’s men wore black pants, crisp white shirts, and black and red vests adorned with Chief Joe’s Bear crest and small cedar paddles. Cowboy hats and boots completed the look for this authentic rancher’s wedding. They looked strong and stoic standing up front as the groom awaited his bride.
Photos by Laureen Carruthers & Chloë Angus
The bridesmaids worn beautiful white linen skirts and shawls delicately detailed with hand cut white suede feathers and white fringe. A woven cedar headband and floral wrist corsage brought together this traditional look with a modern twist.
(Bridesmaids and Coley)
The whole wedding party was so well put together, even the little “dog of honour”, Coley, wore a matching white linen coat for his part in the ceremony.
The wedding party’s attire was made by Sto:lo Nation designer, Karl Harris, I was in awe of the craftsmanship and handy work that went into all the intricate details, the overall vision he created was perfect for this wedding party.
Ceremonies and centuries....
The wedding ceremony performed in partnership by Tl’etinqox spiritual leader Cecil Grinder and Chastity’s father, Charles Davis who is an ordained minister.
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
It started with the gifting ceremonies between the two families that brought together Homalco, Kwakwaka’wakw and Tla’amin First Nations alongside members of the Tŝilhqotʼin Nation. After the exchange of gifts and the performance of traditional dances, including a traditional bride and groom dance in full regalia, an ancient song from the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation whose traditional territory is located on the northern end of Vancouver Island, Alert Bay was gifted back to the Tsilhqot’in. The Kwakwaka’wakw Chiefs and Matriarch sang the song in memory of the Tŝilhqotʼin who perished one dreadful winter trying to return to the Chilcotin, and still sing it to this day as an honour song.
“One of the Kwakwaka’wakw Chiefs brought the ancient and sacred song back to the Tŝilhqotʼin territory and people to gift it back to them at our wedding,” Chastity said.“They also gifted two ancestral and traditional names to me and Joe from their nation which is a huge honour for us to carry.”
Watching the performance and protocol of these ancient, sacred ceremonies between people and nations was monumental for all who witnessed it. Everything stopped, not a guest moved, even the horses seemed to stand still while these traditions were passed on to the next generation. The Chiefs and leaders of each nation spoke about resilience, reconnection, and reconciliation among their tribes. They spoke of Ancestors that connected them all through time, one in particular, that connected us all that day was Anislaga, a Matriarch, mother of twelve children, and master weaver of her time. It was the mention of her that caught my attention and made me realize that we were all right where we were supposed to be that day.
Anislaga Ansnaq, (AKA Mary Ebbetts Hunt; 1823-1919) was a Tlingit noblewoman and master weaver of the Taantakwáan Raven Clan. Daughter of Tlingit Chief Tongas and granddaughter of Haida Chief Shakes, Anislaga was a highly revered matriarch and has many well-known descendants including renowned First Nations artists Wade Baker and Corrine Hunt. Anislaga married Robert Hunt, a Hudson Bay Fur Trader in the mid 1800’s.
Anislaga wove twelve legacy Chilkat blankets for her twelve children. The original Chilkat blankets were made from mountain goat wool and cedar with natural dyes that made brilliant, pigmented hues that have lasted centuries. Many of these blankets were seized during the Pot Lach Bans and were taken forcefully and sold to museums and private collectors around the world.
Prior to that I had worked with Corrine Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw/Tlingit ) on the LOVE design that was prominently featured at the wedding on the custom made blankets and masks.
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
Here I found myself sitting spellbound by it all! Wearing Anislaga’s Chilkat Spirit Wrap and Corrine Hunt’s LOVE mask watching the union of her descendant and the Tsilhqot’in Chief, as they join hearts, families, and nations together in this modern day.
In that moment, it was so clear to me that we are all connected, connected by people and the past as we move forward together into the future.
As the gifting ceremonies came to a close, I slipped off to the ladies’ tipi to dress the bride in her gown and prepare her to walk down the aisle for the final marriage ceremony. On the top of the world, in this remote place, she was a vision of white with a red rose crown against the backdrop of green grass, blue sky, and shimmering lake. The bride absolutely shone!
Wedding Fashion and a moment I will never forget….
As a designer, I always have an eye out for fashion, and I have to say the guests attending the wedding did not disappoint. The dirt road and cow patty fields did not deter the community from coming out in style. A gentleman in a top hat adorned with eagle feathers wearing a silky pink ribbon shirt in cowboy style with his beautiful wife and baby daughter wearing matching ribbon skirts, and a chic young woman who wore black ankle boots, an A-line miniskirt and t-shirt, with a woven cedar hat, were just a few of the many that caught my fashion eye. It was a feast for the fashion senses!
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
As the afternoon sun turned into twilight, the real feast began, a feast of Moose, hunted for the special day, was served for guest to enjoy. Toasts and speeches had everyone laughing, and crying, as moments and memories about the couple were shared.
Tears welled up in my eyes the moment when Chief Joe and Chastity called me and Gabe up in front of everyone and thanked us for our part in their big day, telling all that we are people who always give more than what they are asked. They gifted me a beautiful pair of embroidered deer hide gloves, handmade by Tŝilhqotʼin Elder, Madeline William, along with locally harvested Indian Tea and Pitch Sap salve. They gave Gabe a wooden carved talking stick; noting, cheekily, that they could see I do most of the talking and that he might find it useful (a chance for humour is never missed in Indigenous culture). This was such an honour for us both, to not only help make such important items for such an important wedding but to be invited to attend, and then to be acknowledged in this way. I was literally speechless as my heart brimmed with joy; good thing Gabe had the talking stick so he could voice our gratitude to the community and this incredible couple.
With the final steps of the first dance taken, the groom and bride along with little Coley, loaded up their pickup truck, waved goodbye to their guests and drove off under the peaking light of the full moon.
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
Gabe and I sat off to the side by the lake and looked back at what an incredible day it had been. The moon was now up and shining down on the land and wedding party below. Fire from the horse camp lit up the tipi next to it and once again I was speechless. The clouds formed paint like streaks that seemed to dance in the silver lit sky as they shifted and stretched above.
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
It was a night like no other, a moment in time that will never be forgotten. Not in this lifetime or the next.
Words from the Bride and Groom…
“From the moment I met Chloe, at the Indigenous Women’s Leadership Summit in 2017, I knew that she had a huge heart and a unique talent for fashion.
When we were preparing for our wedding, I discussed with my to-be husband about a wedding dress (by then he had already met Chloe and been to her studio) and he was in full support of having my dress designed by her. It was a quick turn around and Chloe was enthusiastic, knowledgeable, prompt, creative, and caring. All characteristics that I so appreciated as the days crept closer to this massive ceremony and event. Chloe did research to understand my First Nations and European roots and incorporated thoughtful and lovely details into the wedding dress ensemble that made the whole outfit truly a reflection of my mixed-heritage roots, honouring all my Ancestors, and creating the most magical dress.
We invited Chloe and her husband, Gabe to the wedding, and much to our surprise they accepted our invitation and even offered to deliver the wedding dress and custom made gifts that we had ordered!
A note on the masks and blankets – Chloe suggested the most perfect custom made masks and blankets that featured Kwakwaka’wakw artist, Corrine Hunt’s LOVE art that was so fitting for this day that would be filled with love in every way.
Chloe paid attention to every detail of the dress and gifts – and gave so generously from her heart and soul to us to ensure our day was magical. My husband and I are beyond grateful for Chloe and Gabe’s generous contribution to our special day of union. Perhaps one of the most special outcomes of this process is our lifelong friendship that we formed with Chloe and Gabe. When individuals show up for you in a special way, its something that you never forget and will hold them close to our hearts forever.
It was an absolute honour to work with Chloe Angus and her talented team of designers, seamstresses, and support team to get ready for my wedding to the love of my life.”
Photo by Laureen Carruthers
“I worked on a project with Chloe Angus prior to our wedding so I was well aware of her professionalism and learning about her background and how she incorporated First Nations artist in a meaningful way. She utilizes local fabric. Everything about her business, I have been impressed with. Being environmentally cautious with eco-fabrics and developing everything locally. And the way she incorporates First Nations art respectfully. Being from an Interior First Nation, we are not flooded with Coastal art. We came to her about our wedding in short notice and she delivered. Chloe has a unique way of always making you feel special. The work that she had done on my wife to-be’s dress was just outstanding and I can safely say that we made the right choice in going with Chloe Angus. I would highly recommend her and without hesitation recommend her and will continue to do business with her now and into the future.
Knowing that she has challenges and barriers in her life, knowing what she has accomplished to date not only with our wedding and business dealings but in her overall business makes this even more meaningful.
Chloe is like a coyote. No matter what you do you can never wipe out a coyote. Coyote’s environments are always changing and they have to adapt. When I think of all the challenges, Chloe has faced in her life and business, she reminds me of the coyote Spirit.”
Chief Joe Alphonse
Photo by Laureen Carruthers