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Your gift guide to supporting Indigenous artists and businesses this holiday season

Helping support Indigenous businesses, artists and crafters around the holidays is easy according these artists and advocates. It’s as simple as “buy stuff,” says Inuk artist Jason Sikoak.

Cory Hunlin, a two-spirit artist and photographer, sold out of most of his beaded earrings at a pop-up market in Montreal last week. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Helping support Indigenous businesses, artists and crafters around the holidays is easy. 

It’s as simple as “buy stuff,” says Inuk artist Jason Sikoak.

“If you can buy things from Indigenous artists, then do. But if you can’t, share and spread the word.”

Sikoak, who is from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit area of Labrador, and lives in Montreal, is one of the many Inuit artists found on the Inuit Art Foundation’s online database. He said it’s an important resource for people searching for Inuit artists, especially ones like himself without a website who sell their work primarily at local markets and through Facebook.

The Hunter, 2019. Jason Sikoak (Jason Sikoak)

“Right now, Facebook is kind of the place for Indigenous arts and craftspeople across the North,” he said.

“There are online selling groups like the Iqaluit Auction Bids site where artisans and craftspeople put their work for bidding or selling.”

Check out social media

Cory Hunlin, the Tsilhqot’in artist and photographer behind This Claw, also sells his work directly through social media.

“Online sales are 60 per cent of my income,” he said. 

His beaded fringe earrings are quick to sell once posted to Facebook and Instagram — and yes, it’s OK for non-Indigenous people to buy and wear them.

It’s a question Hunlin is asked often.

“I want everyone to wear my earrings,” he said.

“They ask if they’re cultural appropriating if they buy and wear my earrings, then I explain to them what cultural appropriation is and that they’re doing the exact opposite by buying directly and supporting the Indigenous artists’ artwork.”

Instagram is how his business grew, and received opportunities to sell his work at a Montreal gallery and a Calgary hair salon. He said searching hashtags like #nativebling, #Indigenousart, #nativebeadwork and #beadedjewelry is an easy way to find other Indigenous artists.

The top posts on the #nativebling tag on Instagram.

“If you want to find new artists, follow all the hashtags,” he said.

Do your research

Ryan Rogers, marketing co-ordinator at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said the best advice is for consumers to really do their research when it comes to finding Indigenous-owned businesses.

“Doing your research and finding Indigenous owned businesses within your province or territory is really important,” said Rogers.

Fair compensation is also important, he said.

Atikuss, a company in Quebec by Innu entrepreneur Josée Leblanc, raises awareness of Indigenous women’s rights and fair compensation through the Hopeboots project. 

“Buying products that have a meaning behind them will not only give a better gift and a more meaningful gift but it also has the power to change lives and that’s what you can do buying Indigenous products,” said Rogers.

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business both have databases of businesses that are 51 per cent or more owned and controlled by Indigenous people.  

Giving back

One of those businesses is Cheekbone Beauty. The cosmetic company not only names lipsticks after Indigenous women, but gives 10 per cent of profits to Shannen’s Dream, a campaign for First Nations children’s education by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

Another is Birch Bark Coffee, which funds water purification systems in Indigenous homes. 

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a business with a traditional craft or gift that you would think of, but it’s still controlled and owned by an Indigenous person, and those profits are going back to help Indigenous communities,” said Tabatha Bull, chief operating officer for Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business.

“There’s a real feeling when you’re purchasing from those businesses that your money is going back to helping build and strengthen communities.”

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