Inside TDC’s Ezhishin, the “first-ever conference dedicated to Native North American typography”

Ksenya Samarskaya and designer Neebinnaukzhik Southall curate a roster featuring prominent Native designers, plus non-Native designers working respectfully with Native communities.

18 October 2022

From 11-12 November, Type Directors Club (TDC) will host the first-ever conference dedicated to Native North American typography. Ezhishin (“named after the Ojibwe word for ‘s/he leaves a mark’”) aims to facilitate conversation first and foremost, amplifying the typographic needs of First Nations/Native American communities, but also the work and lettering projects of Native designers. The event is “co-curated by Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Chippewas of Rama First Nation), a graphic designer, artist, photographer and writer who specialises in working within Indigenous communities, and Ksenya Samarskaya, the recently appointed TDC managing director”, TDC states.

“The idea [for Ezhishin] came from what I was noticing around me in terms of Native scripts and typography,” Ksenya tells It’s Nice That. “There are very few widely available Native fonts. Even fewer made by Native practitioners. And any time a scene is that limited, it’s not quite in its footing. It’s walking, not dancing. And I believe it’s incredibly fundamental for any community to dictate the terms of its representation, of which a very central part is the way it visually communicates.” With much of the type used by Native practitioners designed by non-Natives, Ezhishin hopes to share the tools and knowledge necessary for more creatives to contribute to the space.


Monique Ortman: Kamama Type Specimen (Copyright © Monique Ortman)

As for the event itself, Ezhishin will include over a dozen panels and presentations – each only 20 minutes in length, functioning as a “sampling of what all is out there”, says Ksenya. Topics such as: “From Logos to Layouts: Appreciating Letterforms and Working with Type in Ways That Honour Indigenous Aesthetics”, will be explored by speakers such as Kevin Coochwytewa. Workshops will also be held from 13 November.

On the curation process for Ezhishin, Ksenya affirms: “Collaboration is absolutely vital”. Beyond the work and knowledge contributed by the array of speakers taking part, type designer and Tulsey Type founder Chris Skillern has produced Ezhishin’s logo, drawing from the forms of Cherokee beadwork. The custom font, available in three weights, has been created “with a mind towards Native cultural revitalisation and self-determination”, the TDC site explains, echoing “the organic, curvilinear shapes found in Cherokee beadwork”. The font is completed for the site with coding from Eric Jacobsen. “Sébastien Aubin has contributed as a script expert for TDC outside of this event as well,” Ksenya lists.

“This conference is an example of what a positive partnership to uplift diverse communities looks like,” co-curator Neebinnaukzhik Southall states on the TDC site. “The work of Native designers has frequently been left out of conversations in the mainstream and not adequately addressed in design history. We want to change that situation.”


Jeff Edwards: Uktena Killer (Copyright © Jeff Edwards)

Since TDC’s closure in 2020, when an open resignation letter was also published by TDC board member Juan Villanueva disclosing racism at the organisation, Ksenya (whose role was created toward the end of 2021) states there have been “significant shifts” at TDC. “A lot of the basic structure has realigned for new opportunities, which dovetail with larger societal shifts taking place. [...] We’re actively connecting with practitioners in different regions for our designs, for our judges and for our Advisory Board, making sure what we practice and showcase reflects diverse global, and not just western, tastes. And I have a goal of bringing type out of a niche expertise, and toward a place where anyone can feel confident having an opinion on it.”

“It’s a significant part of culture that everyone uses, and it would benefit if more people felt empowered to comment on, and participate in, the typographic landscape.”

Audiences looking to attend Ezhishin this November can register and see a complete list of confirmed speakers here.


Jeff Edwards: Casting Out Uktena (Copyright © Jeff Edwards)


Jeff Edwards: Your Move (Copyright © Jeff Edwards)


Chris Skillern: Meli Specimen (Copyright © Chris Skillern)


Bobby Joe Smith III: Ancestral Type (Copyright © Bobby Joe Smith III)


Kathleen and Christopher Sleboda: Good Relative (Copyright © Kathleen and Christopher Sleboda)

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TDC: Ezhishin, logo by Chris Skillern (Copyright © Type Directors Club, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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