Shop Local: Gift Ideas From Canada’s Indigenous Artisans and Entrepreneurs
Keep up with the shop local trend and support Canada's vibrant Indigenous community this holiday season with these unique products. Photo: Courtesy of Onquata
The holidays are here and, more than ever, it’s important that we support local and show our true north spirit in support of the Indigenous artisans who cover this country far and wide.
Did you know that there are more than 700 unique Indigenous communities across Canada? As small businesses and sole traders struggle with the fall-out of COVID-19, it’s important to shop local to support the stores and makers who are the creative foundation of our communities.
There are a variety of Indigenous artisans and makers that can introduce you to authentic Indigenous arts and crafts — all made with love by First Nations, Inuit and Métis People from across Canada.
We asked our friends at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) to give us a few of their favourites, as part of its holiday gift guide of unique Indigenous-made arts, crafts, fashions and treats, which offers shoppers an exciting way to support Indigenous communities within Canada, so many of which have been hard hit by the effects of the global pandemic.
For the Foodie
Wabanaki Traditional Maple Syrup, Tobique First Nation, New Brunswick
Inspired by its roots, Wabanaki maple syrup is a sophisticated blend of pure, natural traditional flavours. Sophisticated because the 100 per cent Indigenous female-owned company has taken traditional methods – passed down from generation to generation that are shared by many Peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy; Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, Penobscot, Abenakie and Passamaquoddy, and before sugar arrived to North America – and borrowed from the spirits distilling trade. The maple syrup is barrel-aged in bourbon, whisky and toasted oak casks. Maple syrup is also considered by First Nations Peoples to have healing and nourishing powers. Sweet gift idea, indeed.
For the Fashionista
Manitobah Mukluks, Winnipeg
Dashing through the fresh-fallen snow fills our dreams. We’re inspired to get out there and enjoy our natural world by this Indigenous-owned company with a vision to build a global brand that makes a significant impact in Indigenous communities. The mukluk is one of the original winter boots in Canada and has been known for generations as the warmest winter boot in the world. Many of Manitobah Mukluk’s boots, moccasins, slippers and accessories are made in keeping with tradition, including Métis culture, at the company’s HQ in Winnipeg, while reinvesting time and capital to contribute to Indigenous success. Of course, modern innovations such as AuthenTEC waterproofing (inspired by an ancestral coating made from pine pitch and spruce gum), Vibram soles (high-performance rubber and, in some cases, serves as a canvas for an Indigenous story subtly carved into the rubber) and fur sourced from farmers who sell the meat for food and the materials would otherwise be considered waste. For more, visit manitobah.ca.
For the DIY Designer
Onquata Paddles, Wendake, Quebec
Up the creek without a paddle? A natural outdoorsy type? Why not marry their love of nature and an active life with these beautifully crafted paddles that marry form and function? Born from the inspiration of Lise and Lara, a Wendat mother-daughter duo, Onquata is renowned for its hand-painted paddles inspired by First Nations culture. Handmade in Wendake, each paddle is custom hand-painted and made to order. Paddles can be purely decorative and are available in different formats – but even better, they also retain their traditional purpose and can be adapted for use on the water.
Set of three paddles, 5 inches x 40 inches, available in multiple colours and designs. For more, visit onquata.com
Looking for a gift that goes a little further. Try a unique subscription service that supports Indigenous authors and entrepreneurs as well as an e-commerce site that helps you buy directly from Indigenous artists.
For the Book Worm
Gift the book lover on your list the total package with the help of Raven Reads, a seasonal gift box subscription service that highlights Indigenous authors and products. Each box includes a book from an Indigenous author and two to three items from Indigenous entrepreneurs, which, in the past, have included beauty products, accessories like jewellery and purses, tea, candles and much more.
The service, which is Indigenous and female owned, also includes an educational component. In addition to the book and product bundle, each box contains a letter from the author and an insert that teaches you about an Indigenous culture from around the world.
“With our seasonal Indigenous subscription boxes, we aim to inspire and educate, while creating a safe space for dialogue,” the company’s website says.
The boxes are curated seasonally and arrive every three months, but the company also offers boxes from previous seasons as a one time gift for those who’d like to have a peek at the book and product bundle before they purchase.
And if you’re on the hunt for a unique gift for the grandkids, the company also offers junior boxes, which brings three books written or illustrated by Indigenous authors. The company also donates one new children’s book to a national Indigenous youth literacy program for each junior box sold.
For the Art Lover
Looking for the perfect gift for the art obsessed on your list? Indigen Artsy, an online market place for Indigenous artists, is a great place to find something truly unique — from colourful paintings to beautifully handcrafted dream catchers.
For those who like to incorporate art into their fashion, venders on the site also offer pendants carved from moose antler and pinewood as well as intricately beaded accessories and necklaces, not to mention a selection of knit and crochet hats and mittens that are perfect for the winter.
The website is run as part of the Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada, a non-profit run by Indigenous women that aims to empower Indigenous women and generate “economic development through free programming and sustainable projects.”
Indigenous artists who sign up receive free assistance in managing their online stores and don’t pay any membership fees. And since it’s a non-profit, the majority of your purchase will go directly to the artist.
A version of this story was originally published in 2020.