Mi'kmaq couple working with big names to put spotlight on Mi'kmaq culture

·5 min read

SYDNEY — A couple from Millbrook First Nation is bringing Mi’kmaq culture to the global stage, while giving back to their own community in the process.

Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade and Garrett Gloade have been working on a collaboration with Nova Scotia-born director Andy Hines since the couple contributed to his video for fellow Nova Scotian rapper Classified’s song "Powerless" in 2018.

The video was dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and features traditional Mi’kmaq drumming and dancing.

The husband and wife both appear in the video, and Isaac-Gloade worked as a cultural consultant to the Grammy-nominated director, who has also directed music videos for Alicia Keys and Khalid, Lizzo and Missy Elliott, and Keith Urban, and has directed commercials for L’Oreal and Sketchers.

In the process of making the video, they struck up a friendship with Hines, who is now based in Los Angeles, and continued to brainstorm on a future project, which eventually brought Nike and the community of Millbrook on board.

“We told him we wanted to bead something to gift to him to show our gratitude for taking notice of us and really treating us like artists, and Garrett and I often collaborate on beadwork, so we suggested a sneaker, and that, I think, planted the seed,” said Isacc-Gloade.

BEADING WORKSHOP

They both have a passion for working with youth, so the idea of a beading workshop at the Millbrook Youth Centre was a perfect fit.

Hines and his agency, Off Site Talent Agency in LA, arranged a sponsorship with Nike Toronto, who supplied Air Force Ones for the couple to bead.

Isaac-Gloade did the design, which she based on Mi’kmaq quillwork from the 17th century, and Gloade did the tedious work of beading, which he said takes about 36 hours for each shoe.

They did two different designs, and had them on-hand this past weekend for the beading workshop, where youth spent two days creating their own custom sneakers featuring traditional Mi’kmaq beading. Thirty pairs of Nikes were donated for participants, and Hines has been using his high-profile social media accounts to promote the event around the world.

On Instagram, he wrote: “This is easily one of the most important projects I’ve ever supported in my life,” and the Millbrook couple couldn’t agree more.

They’ve been married for almost three years, and first bonded over their mutual love of beading, but their paths to the craft have been very different.

EARLY START

Isaac-Gloade, who is 31-years old and is from Listuguj, Que., was exposed to traditional craft at a very young age. Her community had Mi’kmaq art classes, so she knew early in life that it was something she loved. She later discovered her passion for fashion design and pursued a fine arts education in New Brunswick, specializing in beadwork.

Even before that, she was selling her beadwork since she was about 13, not realizing that she was actually running a small business. She started another business selling her work while she was in art school, and now she runs Chey Designs, doing custom works and combining modern fashion with a traditional Mi’kmaq twist.

Garrett Gloade, 35, has lived in Millbrook First Nation his whole life, where he grew up without a connection to the culture and language, even though his mother, who is from Eskasoni First Nation, is a fluent Mi’kmaq speaker.

He said he had a difficult childhood and acted out and turned to self-harm to cope, but when he was 21-years old, a Mi’kmaq drumming group formed in Millbrook and changed his life.

“That’s where my story begins when it comes to culture and art, and that was my first sense of brotherhood when it came to that drum,” he said.

Gloade’s newfound interest in culture led him to research traditions and teachings and to a job at the Millbrook Cultural Centre. That’s how he discovered beading seven years ago, and the calming effect it has on his busy mind.

Because Isaac-Gloade has been beading for more than half her life, her hands have developed weakness and arthritis, so she’s happy to stick mostly with design, which is her passion, and her husband takes on the beading itself.

“To bring her artwork to life, it’s an honour for me to do that,” he said.

FUTURE PROJECTS

Since showing the beaded Nike sneakers to Hines, they’ve been invited to join his talent agency, and are already excited about possible future projects, and the exposure it will bring to them, and to the Mi’kmaq culture.

“Indigenous designers, I don’t want to say we don’t have a space, but we haven’t been given the opportunity to show the world fully yet what our art is capable of, and I think Andy sees that opportunity,” Isaac-Gloade said.

“The fashion world, the music world, the film world, Indigenous people should and need to be there, and that’s something we want the youth to understand, and that essentially being yourself and representing your culture can take you really far.”

She says they’ve received tremendous support since photos of the beaded sneakers started being shared online last week, and they and Hines have received offers to purchase the shoes.

The sneakers will be auctioned off eventually, with the proceeds going to First Nations youth in Canada, but they may be seen on some famous feet in a music video before that happens.

“I honestly can’t tell you what’s next for (the sneakers) or for us,” Gloade said with a shrug and a laugh.

"We'll see."

Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post