With the renewed Horizon School Division’s Celebration Day comes the return of another fall staple. The annual induction of alumni luminaries is back with Horizon’s Wall of Fame. Over the years, the Division has recognized the contributions and efforts of dozens of former students who have excelled in a wide range of endeavours. This year’s honourees certainly belong in that industrious group.
Becki Bitternose is a Punnichy Community High School graduate who has gone on to great acclaim in the fashion world. Becki’s work has been highlighted at shows in New York and her fashions, inspired by traditional Indigenous visuals, have been sought after around the globe. Becki is a mother of four who balances family and her entrepreneurial career. She speaks openly about her struggles with anxiety disorder and how her passion for sewing, inspired by her kokums, helped her through some tough stretches.
During her acceptance speech, Bitternose recounted her early years on George Gordon and Daystar First Nations and her post-secondary studies which resulted in business administration and computer technology. She took her first position as an administrative assistant at Punnichy Elementary in 2003. In the same year came the birth of her first child.
In 2012, Bitternose became aware of her emerging anxiety disorder, and it was a realization that would change her life.
“Anxiety limited my life and changed the way we had lived. I began to become a very sheltered woman and a mother living in fear of what could happen and overthinking what an anxiety attack could look like in public.”
Looking for an outlet to her focus on anything but her debilitating anxiety, Bitternose says she purchased her first sewing machine early in 2013. She recalled, as a youth, sitting on the stairs watching the grandmothers create miraculous hand stitched garments. The women would fashion scrap pieces of material into ornate quilts, and Becki marvelled at the process and at their skills.
“I remember as a child being in awe of the beauty of their hands. They spent hours leaning over their homemade quilting frames, and never complained, using sewing as a way of providing for their homes.”
Bitternose credits those early recollections with paving her pathway in the years that followed. Her studies in sewing at Punnichy High School led to her first sweater, a class assignment. She discovered her own aptitude for stitching, and more importantly, her innate vision that allowed her to create sophisticated designs which harkened back to the traditional work of her kokums. Her sewing became a calm harbour amidst the chaos of family life with four children, her anxiety, and the inherent challenge of being a strong Indigenous woman.
Her work caught the attention of the design and fashion world, and she began to receive invitations to shows, where she would have local teens model her outfits. It ultimately led to her opening Couture Fashion Week in New York, where Becki and her daughter experienced the runway at a major fashion extravaganza.
“The only thing I could think of at the time was, ‘I made it.’ I’d taken something as ugly as an anxiety disorder and created something even more beautiful, and I had succeeded. I didn’t let anxiety win. Those babies that ran around the house with their chaos as I was sewing, stumbling upon my material, losing my scissors, misplacing thread, who impatiently waited for their meals, were proudly sitting right hand, front row of the stage in New York City, cheering and smiling hard for the life they were part of.”
She credited the Punnichy High School and the efforts of leaders from Muskowekwan, George Gordons and Daystar First Nations with pulling together to see that her class of 18 students would graduate and go on to success, in spite of the naysayers.
“It makes us proud as alumni that we became more, and we have flourished.”
Becki’s fashion line “Play Buffalo” is so named in honour of family roots and her grandfather, Basil Play Buffalo.