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Montana fiber artist weaves art and advocacy to help empower Indigenous communities

Great Falls fiber artist weaves art and advocacy to help empower Indigenous communities
Posted at 1:14 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 15:18:06-04

A Great Falls-based fiber artist has a message of inclusivity and diversity she wants to share with others.

A few years ago, she found an outlet, inspired by the stories and artwork of her Montana roots. Now, Candice English is also focusing on healing Indigenous communities.

Her love of knitting started as a hobby, hand-dyed in her basement, where English used botanical dyes.

"When I started doing that, I was good at it," English said. "I was excited.”

Her hobby transformed into a business. Since 2016, the Farmers Daughter Fibers has expanded into a workshop and studio in the Columbus Center in Great Falls. Six employees help dye and ship the yarn around the world, representing Montana in around 40 shops.

"I wanted to stand out and make sure what we’re doing is very authentic,” English said.

The colorful fibers reflect an early childhood spent on her family’s Hi-Line farm and ranch and watching her grandmother knit and crochet. As an Indigenous woman, English also incorporates family traditions into her work.

“Within knitting, I think there is a stereotype of an older, white lady who knits,” she said. “And that’s just not true.”

The names of her products reflect her heritage and Montana roots, which also sparked her newest venture.

In 2019, English said she couldn’t stop thinking about the disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner two years prior. She decided she wanted to raise money for missing and murdered Indigenous women, and Sister’s United was born.

That idea is now a 501(c)(3), with a scholarship designated for a Great Falls Public School Student. Through Sister’s United, English raises money for organizations who are supporting and empowering Native American communities.

This year, they awarded $5,000 to Dani Hardesty, a graduate of Paris Gibson High School in Great Falls.

“Investing in our children is one of the best things we can do,” she said.

Sister’s United also focuses on issues like cultural preservation and elder welfare, weaving art and advocacy to heal communities from within.

"We are very much a grassroots organization, so we are seeing where we need to be and fitting into that mold,” English said.

According to English, she wants to create more arts programming for students in the area, and one day, her long term goal is to open a cultural center in Great Falls.

“People need to heal from the trauma that has happened over the past 400 years," she said. "A lot of it is systematic and historical trauma. And I think art can help with that."

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