Nan Blassingame uses fashion to educate people about Native American culture.
By Anastasia Vastakis, Photos courtesy of Nan Blassingame
Being from the United States, many of us have a unique relationship with our culture. Some are first-, second- or third-generation immigrants. Others can trace their roots to the first 13 colonies. However, there are some who can trace their roots in the U.S. even further back, to the indigenous people of this land. Due to a lack of exposure, we don’t really know much about Native American culture in Texas. However, Nan Blassingame, a fashion designer and member of the Cheyenne tribe, works with Austin Powwow to promote awareness for her community.
Originally from Oklahoma, Blassingame first became involved in fashion as a young girl. “I’ve always sewed, since I was 14,” she says. “But I only did powwow outfits. My grandma made the moccasins. That was her job. That’s all she did. She was really, really good at it. I have a pair she made me when I was 13 that is going into the Bullock Museum.”
Blassingame has a permanent case at the Bullock Texas State Museum, and every six months she changes out the outfits. As of October 15, she has a dress on display to raise awareness for the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Indigenous women are the highest rate of women that go missing in the United States. According to Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, the U.S. Department of Justice found that indigenous women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average.
Fashion as Education
Blassingame uses her fashion to educate people in Austin about the indigenous community. She originally attended their monthly potlucks, where they would listen to drums and practice singing. However, Blassingame wanted more from the potlucks, and the organizers asked her to teach sewing classes. “When I started teaching the classes here, I felt like I could help. I felt like I knew where I was supposed to be. They asked me to be their volunteer coordinator at the powwow, so I started that plus the culture nights. Now I’m the program director [for]the culture nights. I felt like I could help everyone here who grew up in the city and didn’t get to grow up beading or learning how to sew.”
The Austin Powwow is the largest powwow in the U.S., but many people don’t know about it. Blassingame uses her fashion to help promote the powwow and educate people about the indigenous community. Part of that education includes dancing, bead classes, food and other activities to help immerse the Austin community in Native American heritage.
Blassingame’s fashion not only educates; it innovates. In 2019, Nan was one of the designers that attended New York Fashion Week. “I finally submitted all my pictures and emailed them. At 9 a.m. they were calling me like, ‘We didn’t even know Native Americans did fashion. This is amazing. I want to see the feathers and see the dancing.’ I gave them everything they wanted to see. I took my own grass dancer, and my cousin danced jingle.”
Blassingame says children often ask if she rides a horse “I make jokes like, ‘I have a black Nissan. That’s my horse.’ I make them laugh and say, ‘We don’t have to hunt buffalo because we have P. Terry’s and H-E-B.’” Her work goes beyond fashion. Her work is normalizing the Native American culture in a way that is not often seen in Texas. It is about educating the Austin community about the beauty of indigenous culture.