Published August 4, 2017
LAC DU FLAMBEAU RESERVATION – A few years ago, Ojibwe makeup artist and jewelry designer Wabanoonkwe Cameron held a weekend workshop here in Lac du Flambeau. This week she made her way back through Lac du Flambeau briefly as she traveled home to Canada to conduct workshops.
Growing up on a small Reserve in Northwestern Ontario, Canada, Iskatewizaagegan #39, formerly known as Shoal Lake, she experienced trauma and abuse in several different forms while living on what was considered at that time to be one of the most dangerous Reserves in the Treaty 3 area. The rates of drug and alcohol abuse, homicide and suicide were off the charts.
By the time she was a teenager, she wanted to travel and meet other people so she took a road trip to visit other Reservations. She learned a lot on her trips, and was inspired to become more than what statistically she was “supposed” to be. Her struggles with depression, suicide attempts and the after-effects of residential school trauma inflicted upon her by family members that survived the abuse of those years, became her fight to do more than just survive.
Her mother endured physical abuse by her biological father while she was pregnant, and Wabanoonkwe believes she literally came into this world fighting. “Coming from a generation where your parents didn’t talk about the things that happened to them, I realized as I came into womanhood that it was okay to talk about the things that happened to you,” Wabanoonkwe said. “I realized that a lot of stuff happened to me, more than the average person off Reserve.”
By age 17, she became a clothing designer and launched her own brand “Dinawo”, which became very popular across Canada’s Indian Country. After taking a break from her successful clothing line, she began doing beadwork, creating one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art. Initially this was just a hobby for her, but soon she realized that people were waiting for the opportunity to purchase her earrings and other designs. She then became Turquoise Soul, an entrepreneurial success and yet another step along the way in her career.
“I had to step back, reevaluate my life and look at what was I good at. I knew that I was good at interacting with people, in touch with my artistic side, and if I have the tools I can create anything,” Wabanoonkwe said. “That was my balance. It made me feel safe and normal. When you’re somebody that deals with mental health struggles, you look for being normal anywhere you can.”
She knew that she had more to share, and wanted to give back to her community and other Tribal communities, so she set out on the road to begin a series of workshops which included a photo session with Indigenous youth females. Her mission was to give young Indigenous women the opportunity to experience something they may not have access to otherwise, and to also inspire them to love themselves and give them a glimpse of what they could do in life if they just take the chance to pursue their dreams like she did.
While in Lac du Flambeau, Wabanoonkwe was able to utilize the photography skills of Ryan Young. She also invited several other Lac du Flambeau young adults to assist her team in the workshop, sponsored by Gikendaasowin Tribal Education Department. In order to participate, they were required to have a family member attend the event along with them. The workshop was set to teach young women about caring for themselves, hair and makeup tips, and participation in a professional photo shoot, which would leave them with photos they could use any way they would like.
“I want our young women to know that we are beautiful, and to embrace our beauty and uniqueness and not just say, “Oh she’s pretty, for an Indigenous girl,” but instead say, “She’s a beautiful Indigenous woman. “I never went into this business to become rich or make a name for myself, but to meet other people like me,” Wabanoonkwe said.
Wabanoonkwe is currently on the road again and doing workshops in the Treaty 3 area. She is always open to booking workshops in the States as well. Her future plans include a trip abroad this November to work for Paris Fashion Week, and possibly jumping into the world of television and film eventually. The possibilities are endless in her field of dreams. “I would love to come back here to work with the young people of Lac du Flambeau. I love going to any rez to work with our youth,” Wabanoonkwe said. Visit her website
to learn more.