Angel Sanderson & Alex Manitopyes

Two Indigenous women wearing beautiful earrings
Indi City offers an array of contemporary Indigenous designs | Photo: Courtesy of Indi City

Angel Sanderson & Alex Manitopyes

Original Peoples Investment Program showcases FNMI artists in our community

Angel Sanderson and her partner in life and creativity, Alex Manitopyes, have created and developed a successful, dynamic, and fashion forward business called Indi City.

In 2019 they applied to the Original Peoples Investment Program to help them with the cost of attending a cultural exchange and trade mission in Japan. It was an experience of a lifetime for them. I caught up with Angel and Alex recently to find out more about Indi City, their trip to Japan, and their journey as Indigenous artists.

Sable Sweetgrass: The first time I met Angel Sanderson was way back in my U of C days when I was looking at exploring a career in filmmaking. Angel was also an aspiring filmmaker and I was so glad to see another Indigenous woman who loved film and being behind the camera as a storyteller.

Angel Sanderson: That was a lifetime ago, I think I was about 21. At the time I was set on being a writer and a storyteller. I’ve always been a creative person. When I was little, I used to direct my sister’s plays for our family on special occasions. So being a filmmaker, storyteller, writer has always been a huge part of my life.

I went in the direction of fashion recently but back in the day it was a group of us back at Mount Royal College and I think there had just been a really awesome group of people who had attended the year before because we all kind of met in the middle. I remember sitting with some folks and we were talking about film and it was the first time in my life where I had conversations like that.

Where I grew up in northern Saskatchewan, part of life was just about becoming colonized and assimilated into Canadian society, that was like the path of least resistance. I carried a lot of shame I guess for the stereotypes that people placed on Indigenous peoples.

When I went to Mount Royal and I met this group of people, these artists, these creatives, these academics, they opened the world for me. I have so much gratitude for that moment in time. I had always wanted to be a filmmaker and thought about all these things, creative things, that I didn’t think were tangible things that I could actually do. It was like be a nurse, be a teacher, there’s these five jobs that you can choose from that are best suited to you. I was like, what about being an artist? You know all the stigma that goes with being an artist, they are all broke, blah, blah, blah. 

Well that deterred me and Mount Royal just blew the top off, no more glass ceilings. There was a conversation that we had. That there was very poor representation of Indigenous peoples in Hollywood and that our stories need to be told from an Indigenous perspective. So, there was this opportunity to write a script and then this group of people was going to make films with it. I remember asking if I could direct it and they said sure, write and direct it, and I wrote my first little horror short film. It was about suicide, and I figured that film was a way to tell stories and hard truths in a way that would capture an audience’s attention and we could address hard stuff in an artistically creative way to get the message out there to more folks.

That was the catalyst for everything—just that opportunity to hold a Super 8 camera, to develop the film in a dark room, to digitize it, and to sit in the editing process with somebody and just see this idea come to life in a tangible way. That was the very beginning of it all.

I just wanted to pursue film and I realized how much goes into making a film after that first little six-minute project. I thought: well I need to figure out what I’m going to specialize in as a filmmaker because a good director has a well-rounded knowledge of everything, and I wasn’t sure where I was going to specialize. I knew I needed a lot of work on my storytelling and writing and that’s kind of where I spent a lot of time figuring that out. And then I was immersed in the Treaty 7 community and culture for a while and I really got to find more pieces of myself through that, like the sweat lodge and sun dance.

I have blood relatives that live in Siksika. My biological father had married out there and had a couple of children out there and I found them during my Mount Royal College days. It was cool, spirit just led me to Calgary and I just knew that there was something here that I needed to experience. And really it was all of it, the identity component and finding that sense of self within that, and then growing and feeling like the sky was the limit, in terms of what could be done as an artist, as a person, as a woman, as a mother. So that’s where the filmmaking came from.

Alex Manitopyes: I was born and raised in Calgary. My Kookum is from the Fort Qu’Appelle area. She came to the city in the 60s with all her kids and they were pretty much raised in the inner city and me too.  I was born in Bridgeland at the General Hospital.

When I was a youth, Métis Family Services, they were offering a program where we were able to create a film, like a public service announcement, and it was a summer program so we got to learn everything from acting to editing. It was done in two months, and we were teens and we just wanted to have fun. I was a little frustrated by the process of it and that was my first experience with film and the project that I wanted to create was that Cree proverb that you can’t eat money when all the fish and water is gone. It made me so shy because what I imagined did not come out the way I had imagined.

So, I put it aside, the idea of filmmaking or creating after that. I just had so much passion and a visual for this proverb and it just like crashed and burned. I thought I would never touch it again, I would never do it again. After a while, working, I was trying to find what I was good at or passionate about. I got into photography and started taking night classes at SAIT for photography and I found that it was something that came natural to me. The technical side and the artistic, creative side and just doing it by myself and having the control, and that is how I started to learn the camera. It was shortly after that me and Angel reconnected and started dating. Fell in love.

Angel Sanderson: Fell in love. All the dreams and all the drama

Alex Manitopyes: Very early in our relationship we knew we wanted to create something together. We knew that we had the same aesthetic and creativity, and we were like, we have to do something. I told her I want to work with you. Everyday.

Angel Sanderson: I want to see you everyday.

Sable Sweetgrass: So that led into the creation of Indi City, is that where it started with the two of you collaborating together?

Alex Manitopyes: Yeah, so Angel had this idea, that it was Indian in the city.

Angel Sanderson: Yeah, I was trying to do something with the writing again and playing with cameras as well, trying to figure out camera work. I’m not a super technical person, I’m more an analogue girl, I really love Super 8 film as opposed to digital, but I know that digital makes more sense. I’m more of a hands-on, kind of, make it with my hands, person.

Alex Manitopyes: But that is where Indi City came from Indian in the city. I think I helped simplify it. I was like, no one is going to understand what Indian in the city is. Indi City rolls off the tongue and it can mean a lot of things.

Angel Sanderson: I had been thinking about that as well. I wanted to shorten it because everybody always asked what the blog, Indian in the city, meant. I’d have to go through like three sentences of explaining it. It was just about appreciating the aesthetic and the style of Indigenous people.

Alex Manitopyes: Basically, it was a brand before products and services. We didn’t know what we were going to offer but we knew we had something. What we had in common was the artistry and the photography. Those were our early roots of inspiration.

Angel Sanderson: It was like trying a bunch of artistic mediums and trying to find something that we didn’t just have to invest in but that there would be money that would come from it, there would be a flow so that we could continue being creative. Just observing how society runs and what works, but we needed to come up with a product. Something that was tangible that they could access and feel like they were a part of something.

Alex Manitopyes: That’s why the beadwork was so great, it was a good way to get Indi City recognized, through Instagram. Angel built that following for years. I was watching it and how easily she was able to sell her beadwork, I would call it Insta-sales. I recognized right away how important social media and online presence is and that we need to feed that rather than build a physical brick and mortar thing.

Angel Sanderson: There was more that could be shared over social media because there is a story that goes with the creation of every piece and there’s a process that goes along with it. A lot of that has to do with all aspects of the medicine wheel. You go for a walk and you pray and feel the presence of the grandmothers and you dream on that and then build something from that and share it. I think that’s what connects a lot of Indigenous artists over social media is this shared experience process of essence and the art and authenticity which is like right from spirit.

Alex Manitopyes: Once the following started to grow on Instagram I wanted to contribute but I needed my own skills to offer, so I went back to school. I went back to SAIT and took the multimedia program called New Media Production and Design. So, you learn multimedia and its a two-year program and basically, I gaged Indi City with that. I used my assignments and Angel’s input to feel out what directions Indi City could go or grow.

Angel Sanderson: It was like you used all the skills you were going through in post-secondary and applied it to building a business and creating an aesthetic and just all the fundamentals of that. It was digital art made into a business.

Alex Manitopyes: So, after my two years there was an internship and Angel had this connection to MakeFashion. Angel do you want to explain what MakeFashion is a little bit?

Angel Sanderson: So yeah, friends of mine, I had rented out their space for a fashion show that I threw in 2011. It was a fundraiser for artists and entrepreneurs. We didn’t make any money, we just spent money mostly to put out a fashion show. The cool part is that I made lifelong friends with the owners of the gallery. They are mentors and family now.

Back then we just rented a space from them and they saw something in us, and we loved their aesthetic, and they transitioned into becoming a maker hub in Calgary. During their transition that’s when Alex and I had first started seeing each other and getting serious about the relationship aspect of our partnership.

I took Alex to a fundraiser that they were having in the space where I had met them and they were fundraising to do wearable tech. It was so cool Sable! It was the first time I had ever seen couture gowns and fantasy pieces with like LED lights and all the bells and whistles and motion sensors. These friends knew that we were makers and they saw that I was doing the beadwork thing and really trying to hustle the beadwork and build something with it, which is really hilarious and really difficult, but I tried for quite a few years. Then they asked if I was interested, they could sponsor me to create a look for their MakeFashion Gala this year? Because they realized that if you want to have Indigenous content on any platform it needs to come from an Indigenous artist or creator, so they asked me.

At the time I’d always been obsessed with powwow regalia and just the intricate beads and the style, and I love everything about powwow, and just celebration, and I’ve always wanted to be a traditional dancer but I don’t know, I fear that I might look like a German out there. Too light skinned, I don’t know.

Alex Manitopyes: So, she got invited to create something for the show and at the same time they had a call out for an intern for their videography. It was so perfect because I had to do my internship to graduate from my program so naturally when I went over there to introduce myself and apply for the internship, I got it. It was perfect because Angel was in the show and I got to help film it.

Angel Sanderson: They didn’t even know that we were a couple when they hired Alex to be the intern and when they sponsored me to be the designer. So, it was this synchronistic moment where all of our skills just came together, and that’s actually the foundation of what I think moving forward. What we will be bringing out more in our artistry is the fusion of wearable regalia and film and storytelling.

Alex Manitopyes: It was also there at MakeFashion, at their maker space they have the 3D printers, laser cutter, they have all this stuff for you to create wearable tech. So that’s where they mentored us on the laser cutter machine and that’s where the idea for the earrings came from.

Angel Sanderson: We needed a product that we could create a lot of, because obviously, you can’t create a lot of beadwork unless you have a bead working studio with all the workers and all the policy and procedures and we just weren’t there yet. I thought let’s utilize what we have, and that was the acrylic and wood. We can create lots of them and pulling from culture and our background, woodland—I’m from the north and south of Saskatchewan originally—my people anyways, so pulling from those aspects of our culture and sharing with the world from an authentic space, that’s how the Indi City acrylics collection started happening. It was such a beautiful fusion.

I was gifted some heirloom beadwork of my great grandmother’s, my Kookum, and Alex and I just recently put a collection together for Indigenous fashion week in Toronto that’s based on her beadwork. It’s basically her beadwork digitized and pieced together with acrylics.

Alex Manitopyes: In the beginning when we introduced the acrylic jewellery, we needed to promote it. So we started doing our own photography, our own logo, our own videos, and that’s how we established an in-house production company. It was just an extension from Indi City; Indi City Productions. Because we were able to show we could promote our own, other local businesses started reaching out to us to promote them too. That’s everything that led up to Tokyo.

Sable Sweetgrass: In 2019 we started our first round of funding for Original Peoples Investment Program and you guys both applied. I saw that you guys were going to be heading to Tokyo, so tell me about what you saw and what inspired you while you were there?

Angel Sanderson: It was interesting. It’s one of those places that is on everyone’s bucket list or at least should be, because there’s so much history and there’s so much we don’t know about Japanese culture, I mean especially as an artist it’s such a huge pull of inspiration. They say it’s 30 years more advanced than North America, and I thought we’re doing this wearable tech we need to go meet the future in Tokyo.

And then the business opportunities and the connections and all the other artists that were set to come—it just seemed like such a cool opportunity to network with folks from around Turtle Island and be in this foreign space. Alex and I have a little bit of experience with international travelling, and we have a really good project, and we have support in this, and what can go wrong?

So, we kind of planned ahead a little bit and we had a little bit of our own trip planned as well while we were going. We were going to scout out locations and figure out what we were going to do before the trade mission started. We had a little bit of time before everyone got there to kind of experience Japan, and I was so grateful for that because it was life-changing and in retrospect, very transformational in the sense that we went to the future where there was this society built around something traumatic that had happened.

Where they have this reciprocity for each other and just amongst everything. They wear masks if they’re not feeling well so they are not spreading their germs because their culture relies on transit and the transit extends everywhere so there’s tons of people all the time in small enclosed spaces.

Alex Manitopyes: They respect each other’s space. It’s clean, there’s no crime, it’s a different vibe out there, it’s a great example to follow. The way that things flow, stay out of each other’s way. It was interesting. I think about it daily, I miss it. I get inspiration from that trip in my current art, where we are constantly doing that. The trade mission was a brilliant idea, just executed by the wrong person. It was so unfortunate because it’s what we need in our Indigenous community, these trade missions. It’s exposure for our people too, establishing global connections.

Angel Sanderson: I think it’s essential for growth as a human as well, like leave the bubble that you’re comfortable in and go out there and see with your own eyes, touch it with your own hands, smell the air.

I think this is something that we need to bring forward with our Indigenous youth, cultural exchanges more often and sharing our art with them, and our culture. We wanted to really bring that there because there’s such a deep resonance. In my experience with the Stoney Nakoda youth or the Siksika youth, Tsuu’tina youth, there’s this resonance with Japanese culture. I thought if we have this resonance with their culture I’m super excited to see how we resonate with them. So, I felt that here is an opportunity to finally figure that out, to research that and check it out and unfortunately, we didn’t really have that opportunity. I think it would take a second trip over with proper planning, everything in place. Now that the research is done, we’re still on that mission to uncover that part of it.

Alex Manitopyes: We know that because we have travelled internationally and the potential of where these things can go. It just seems like the person who was organizing it had no idea that there was going to be any issues. We did take it as a wonderful experience and we were able to collaborate with a couple of the artists when we got back. Yukon soaps, we did commercials for her and photography for her and she’s wanting to do another round.

Sable Sweetgrass: So, it was a successful trip in that you were able to see and experience and make new connections?

Angel Sanderson: Absolutely! The proposed project for Calgary Arts Development didn’t happen the way we needed it to because all the people that were supposed to be there, they got cancelled at the last minute and we were already in Tokyo when we found out. All the dancers and the makeup artists and the models that were supposed to be there they weren’t there.

Alex Manitopyes: We used whoever was there.

Sable Sweetgrass: So now that there is no travel anywhere, how have you, as Indi City, been dealing with the pandemic of 2020?

Angel Sanderson: It’s been unexpected. I think the shift, whatever is happening, has been absolutely necessary, like whatever comes of it. As artists we are so grateful that we did go to Tokyo because this year happened the way that it did.

We set up Indi City and our career as artists to be a really successful year of growth and experience. We started off really strong. PARK invited us to be part of a fundraiser that they had at the Palliser, so we started off creating a new collection, putting our art and skill to work right away. Then in March we showcased at an incredible show in partnership with another designer, Paul Hardy, and it was really cool. People were shouting, reconciliation is dead and the Indigenous youth were strong with that. We really need to figure out how to move forward with that in a really good way and I think that economics is one of the ways that we need to do that for sure.

Our people need to be brought out of this lack mentality and we need to show them abundance and we need to do this in an artistic way. We jumped on the opportunity to showcase in March and it was the bougiest, grandest fashion show we’ve ever been part of, so it was a good way to start and end the year before everything changed and there were no more events.  Moving forward with that highlighted the year then everything shifted and changed, which is really conducive to my process as an artist. I need a lot of solitude; I need a lot of quiet to handle the business and also stay in my creative space. So, it’s like the chrysalis right now–we are gooey and mushy right now and then we’re going to come back next year.

Alex Manitopyes: I have faith that there will be different procedures for how people are around each other. I don’t want to look too much into the future because it worries me because it’s so uncertain and it’s not good for my mental health and physical health. I just have faith that things will change for the better and it will get better, that’s all I can do right now.

Angel Sanderson: I’m actually really excited for the future because as difficult as a shift in consciousness or frequency or whatever it may be is, I think it’s necessary for people to slow down a little bit because we’re not made to be this busy, busy, busy. I think we’re reinventing something that’s going to work a little better.

In terms of the artists and creative people in this world and this time, I know I’ve struggled with mental health and had moments of darkness and depression. I also know that I create from that space a lot of truth. I know I’ve had a lot of time to negotiate with spirit and figure out what works for me and what doesn’t and how I need to move forward. Knowing that where my strength lies is within my spirit and that connection.

I’m excited for humanity because as a creative, an Indigenous creative, the connections that are still present are very fundamental aspects of building anything from. Spirit, connections to the Earth, those moments of authenticity with yourself and spirit and creativity, people have had a little bit more time to do that. I think whatever people start creating from this space is going to speak so loudly and so strong and I’m excited to hear what everybody’s internal process has been when they start sharing it with the rest of the world.

Sable Sweetgrass: For Indigenous youth who are thinking about a career in the arts or a creative business, what would your advice to them be?

Angel Sanderson: That’s a really good question, a really important one.

Alex Manitopyes: From my experience, I would suggest to finish high school, but do go out into the world to get some work experience because you’re still developing, still finding yourself, you’re still growing. Take that time to find out what you enjoy, what you love, what your passions are, what is tangible to you as a career.

I think going from high school straight into post-secondary school you often misdiagnose your career because you’re still young. That is what happened to me. I applied to two or three different programs and then came back full circle and realized that’s not what I wanted to do. So, I would go in for a little bit or back out of the program. Growing up and travelling and discovering yourself and then committing to a program after that, there definitely needs to be more programs that help our youth to do that.

Angel Sanderson: Access the resources. If they are out there just check it out, honestly Quickdraw and CSIF probably saved my life. Just having those communities around, and that support, and access to equipment, and people who know stuff, that was monumental. I know Alex and I talk a lot about how those programs that the city offers through Métis Services or USAY or whatever organization offers support to youth through programs, just check them out because you never know who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to find. It’s worth it to get out there and if they are going to pay you a little bit to learn something cool and new, even if you’re not interested in it or good at it at least you have that cool experience under your belt.

What I would say to youth is if you can learn to know yourself and trust yourself at a young age, you’re going to go in directions that nurture your being. And there’s really only two choices when it comes to the way we look at everything, there’s two perspectives: we can look at it from a space of love, or we can look at it from a space of ego, which is fear. So, love or fear.

Are you afraid or do you love this moment, this opportunity, this life? And in everything that we do we have those two choices, love or fear, love or ego. I sincerely believe we will learn so much when we make those ego choices, but we will have so many more blessings when we make those love choices. And I think that this life is a balance between those two.

About the Original Peoples Investment Program Showcase

The Original Peoples Investment Program (OPIP) supports the preservation and revitalization of First Nation/Métis/Inuit (FNMI) art through art-based projects and activities that are supported and validated by FNMI artists, community, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers.

Reflecting on the 143rd anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7—signed on September 22, 1877—and our ongoing journey of Reconciliation, Calgary Arts Development is pleased to highlight a handful of projects that were funded through the program in 2019.

Check back each day this week for a new profile.

Original Peoples Investment Program Showcase graphic