This Indigenous artist sets the record throughout the design


The Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, is a beloved figure in American lore. But for Louie Gong, a Seattle-based artist who grew up in the Nooksack tribal community, the creature has become an ambassador for his culture — one that helps him reclaim a skewed perception of his community, pushed by outsiders, during decades.

For many indigenous communities in the United States and the Canadian Pacific Northwest, Sasquatch is less about reflecting on the existence and wilderness of a towering humanoid primate than about what it represents: a portal towards spirituality, emotional transformation symboland a harbinger of good luck.

You see, cities like Seattle have aligned themselves with a romanticized notion of local indigenity in order to attract tourists. For example, the city stolen totem poles of Alaska and brought them to its public spaces, despite the fact that the local Coast Salish people never made totem poles. At Pike Place, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, local groups try to get two deceptive totem poles deleted for years.

In such cases, cultural erasure can take on a new form, but have the same treacherous effects. And so for Gong, the Sasquatch is a vehicle of truth.

As part of a mission to preserve the often overlooked art of the Coast Salish people, Gong recently teamed up with Brooks Running to design limited-edition shoes crafted with the Coast Salish design, which incorporates circles and crescents to form a larger shape. In this case, the Sasquatch is his muse. Like his own community, they are resilient but widely misunderstood.

Gong tells me that local governments have been complicit in erasing Coast Salish art for a long time. Native religion was actually illegal during most of the 20th century because it was considered “anti-Christian”. This, as you can imagine, had a devastating impact on the community’s ability to carry on and share important traditions.

Gong, 48, is part of a generation still reeling from the residual (and current) effects of discrimination and appropriation of indigenous cultures, but he is doing the work to reclaim the true history of the northwest. of the Pacific. The inspiration of her work is to revitalize what has been flattened and highlight important aspects of the Indigenous way of life that can actually teach us a lot about ourselves and the land we inhabit.

gongs collaboration with Brooks Running was particularly personal to him as he was always drawn to how a person’s shoes help express their identity. He tells me that when he was younger he would go to the stores and feel that none of the shoes resonated with him. So he started drawing his own designs on canvas shoes. The first was an outline of paws drawn on a pair of plain gray pickup trucks. People liked them, so he decided to start his business, Eighth generationand resell them.

Louie Gong’s First Design

Photo by John Keatley. Courtesy of Louie Gong.

Gong tells me that he chose to portray the Sasquatch for the Brooks Collaboration pieces because, in his culture’s story iteration, the Sasquatch is a shapeshifter that transforms into a plant. Shapeshifting and fluidity are themes that interest Gong, as a person of mixed Chinese and Indigenous heritage. He explains how the American urge to categorize things – by race, by “true” or “wrong”, by black or white – is something he, the Sasquatch and indigenous culture all resist.

“In tribal communities, we don’t have the same expectations of whether something has to be real or scientifically provable for it to be part of our lives,” Gong tells me.

It resonates. We don’t need to meet a Sasquatch or see him physically to believe he can teach us important lessons about how we are all shapeshifters who cannot be defined by binary systems. The Sasquatch, as an entity, encourages us to be curious and to ask questions, to listen and to honor the articulations that people have about themselves, even if it turns out that they are not who we thought they were.

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