Empowerment in Bloom

Exploring identity through artistry with Lucie Skjefte – the Anishinaabe designer behind the Ayashe Mocs


Lucie's Green Tea Ribbon Skirt by Erin Caroline


We’re thrilled to collaborate on a new beaded moc collection with Red Lake Nation Anishinaabe designer, Lucie Skjefte. Read on for a further glimpse into her inspiration behind the design, and her thoughts surrounding the importance of honoring heritage and cultural diversity.


How did you choose the name “Ayashe” for this collection? What message or emotions do you hope to convey with this name?

The new floral design of the Ayashe Moc is named after my niece, Ayashe – ‘Our Little One.’ I had a conversation with Ayashe's mother, who expressed my niece's frustration with people mispronouncing her name. Ayashe (pronounced: i-yah-she) has chosen to go by the name 'Aya' at school to avoid the mispronunciations. However, it is also important to her that others learn to pronounce her name correctly. By naming this collection after her and embracing the correct pronunciation, I hope to instill a sense of pride in my niece while teaching others the importance of respecting and valuing diverse names and cultures.

It is my sincere hope that Ayashe truly grasps the immense power she possesses within herself. This power is rooted in her inner strength, confidence, resilience, and determination, which are all inherent qualities she possesses. I encourage her to embrace and nurture her inner strength, using it as a source of empowerment to fearlessly face and overcome any challenges that may come her way.

With a deep commitment to honoring our ancestors and elders, we pass down names that strengthen our connection to our ancestry. It is worth noting that Ayashe's great-great-great-grandmother, Aishe Gahbow of Mille Lacs, (Aish-e-gah-bow), shares a name that has sparked curiosity within our family about a potential connection between the two. After a conversation with Ayashe’s Grandpa Simon, he confirmed that Aishe and Ayashe are the same name.


How do you feel about this new collection being launched on Indigenous Peoples’ Day? What would you like readers to know as they engage with your art in honor of this day?

I feel a great pride and honor in launching our new collection on Indigenous Peoples' Day. As readers engage, I hope they pay homage to the teachings that inspired the collection's name, while also acknowledging the critical role of uplifting Indigenous communities.



Why have you chosen the non-profit organization Native Sun to receive a donation in honor of this collection?

Ayashe Skjefte passionately supports Earth preservation and clean energy. Together, we contribute to promoting clean energy, environmental stewardship, and an equitable future with renewable energy and Indigenous empowerment.


What type of florals are incorporated into this design?

The Ayashe beading design incorporates an Ojibwe woodland floral motif, and carefully encompasses elements of the tulip, leaves, and berries. These designs weave a beautiful tapestry that pays tribute to nature and Ojibwe heritage.

Ojibwe woodland florals draw inspiration from the natural world, capturing the essence of our surroundings. These floral motifs not only reflect the beauty of nature, but also serve as a cultural connection for Anishinaabe people – expressing a deep reverence for the natural world.

Our Ojibwe floral patterns hold deep symbolic representations intertwined with our spirituality, traditions, and cultural wisdom, and they are passed down through generations. More than just artistic expressions, these patterns carry historical and cultural significance, reflecting our profound connection with Mother Earth and the natural world. They serve as a reflection of our values and traditions, and are proudly incorporated into our artwork and designs, allowing us to showcase our boundless creativity.



How did you choose the colors for the Ayashe collection?

In consideration of my niece’s story and the inspiration behind her name, I wanted to choose colors that would not only reflect the essence of her natural beauty and power, but also pay homage to the significance of the Ayashe name. The colors I chose symbolize strength, growth, and connection to our natural world, and are a representation of the commitment in honoring and creating meaningful connections.



What keeps you inspired once you start your design process? Are there certain things you think about, or is there a mood/environment you need to be in while you are designing new artwork?

Once I start my design process, I find inspiration in the richness of our Ojibwe culture and the significance of our floral patterns. This deep connection to nature and the expressions of spirituality found in our artwork are constant sources of motivation for me.

During the design process, I often reflect on the values and traditions passed down through generations – I think about the symbolic representations embedded in the floral motifs and how they carry cultural knowledge. This mindfulness helps infuse meaning into my artwork and create pieces that honor our people.

In terms of mood or environment, I find that being in a serene and peaceful setting allows my creativity to flow. Being surrounded by nature or creating in a quiet space helps me establish a deeper connection with the designs I am working on. It allows me to focus and channel my energy into creating artwork that is authentic and true to myself, and my Ojibwe culture.


Are there any challenges you've faced in preserving traditional art forms while also adapting them to contemporary design contexts? If so, how do you overcome those challenges?

Preserving traditional art forms while adapting them to contemporary design contexts poses a challenge of maintaining authenticity while also creating relevancy and accessibility. There’s a delicate balance between innovation and cultural appropriation that is critical when preserving traditional art forms while adapting designs in a contemporary context – all of which requires a profound respect of the cultural significance of the art form, and ensuring the process of adaptation honors and upholds cultural heritage. This involves thorough research – consulting with elders, community members and artists, actively seeking and leaning on their guidance and wisdom.

Ongoing education and awareness-building efforts are critical. Sharing these stories, histories, and meanings behind traditional art forms fosters a deeper appreciation and understanding among contemporary audiences. It’s essential to engage with other artists, cultural leaders, and the community to ensure that this process is guided with in-depth cultural knowledge and expertise.

Overcoming the challenges of preserving traditional art forms while adapting them to contemporary design requires a delicate balance of respect, collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and educational outreach. These efforts enable us to honor the legacy of traditional art forms while allowing them to evolve within a contemporary context.



What advice would you offer to fellow designers who are interested in incorporating their cultural heritage into their design work?

Embrace Your Identity: Understanding and embracing your own cultural heritage. Reflect on the values, traditions, art forms, and symbols that hold significance within your culture. This self-awareness will provide a solid foundation for incorporating your cultural heritage into your design work.

Research and Learn: Dive into research to deepen your understanding of your cultural heritage. Explore its history, art, craftsmanship, and design principles. This knowledge will give you the necessary insights to infuse your designs with authenticity and respect.

Collaborate and Seek Guidance: Engage with community members, artists, and thought leaders who possess deep knowledge of your cultural heritage. Collaborate with them to gain valuable insights, seek advice, and learn from their experiences. This collaborative approach ensures that your work stays rooted in the authentic spirit of your culture.

Sensitivity and Authenticity: Strive for a balance between innovation and tradition when incorporating your cultural heritage. Aim to adapt traditional elements in a way that retains their essence while making them relevant to contemporary design contexts. Be mindful of ensuring your work celebrates and honors your culture.

Tell Stories Through Design: Use your design work as a medium to tell the stories, narratives, and symbolism of your cultural heritage. Celebrate the uniqueness of your culture and share it with the world through your creative expressions.

Be Open to Inspiration: Draw inspiration from your cultural heritage while also being open to influences from other cultures and design movements. Embrace cross-cultural collaborations and incorporate diverse perspectives into your work. This can result in fresh and innovative designs that maintain a strong connection to your cultural roots.

Educate and Inspire: Use your design work as a platform to educate and inspire others. Share your knowledge, stories, and experiences to create awareness and appreciation for your culture among a wider audience.

Incorporate your cultural heritage into your design work authentically and respectfully, preserving and celebrating the richness of your cultural heritage.


Looking back on your journey with the collections you’ve launched so far with Minnetonka, what are you most proud of achieving?

Reflecting on my journey, I'm proud of capturing the essence of our culture in a way that has resonated with both our community and with Minnetonka’s customer base. Overall, working with Minnetonka has been a great learning experience and an opportunity to showcase my design skills in a collaborative environment. It has fostered more opportunities to explore new design territories, and push boundaries while building strong relationships within our community and within Minnetonka's team.


To learn more about Minnetonka’s commitment to the Native American community, please visit this link.


To learn more about Lucie Skjefte, please visit her website or our previous Q&A with Lucie conducted in October 2022.