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Decolonizing the Trading Post

 

Art: “Patience” by Chief Lady Bird.Art: “Patience” by Chief Lady Bird.

During the long drive to my new home in northwestern Ontario, I pass numerous Trading Posts that line the highway. I love Indigenous-made products and art but these places are often depressing, trading more in the fetishization and commercialization of Indigeneity for the amusement of colonial settlers.

The Trading Post I stopped into at Espanola featured an Indigenous section with leather products and some authentic traditional artwork. I picked out gorgeous moccasins but when I reached the checkout, I gagged at shelves lined with knock-offs—appropriated Indigeneity, Canada 150 promotional products, sweatshirts adorned with moose and Mounties, tacky souvenirs made who knows where.

Is a person meant to pair some Manitobah Mukluks with signature Hudson’s Bay Company striped mittens—one showing your appreciation of Indigenous culture, the other revealing just how deeply your thoughts are trapped in a colonial mindset? It’s a trendy look that makes me cringe.

I couldn’t buy the moccasins and couldn’t stop thinking about the colonial roots of Trading Posts—or Consumerism Posts as Chief Lady Bird of Mnjikaning First Nation (FN) calls them. I turned to her and Faith Redsky of Shoal Lake FN, two powerhouse Anishinabekwe artists, to help me  understand how we can support the Indigenous Femxle* & Two-Spirited economy across Turtle Island, while avoiding the colonial commodification, appropriation and racism often on glaring display alongside Indigenous-made products.


Both have travelled the same winding highway and are equally perplexed by the continued existence of Trading Posts. As Chief Lady Bird asked, “What are we trading when we go in? We are exchanging money for goods. It’s not really trading; it’s just capitalism and consumerism, you know what I mean?”

So what does it mean to enter a real trading post? Let’s strap on our non-binary lenses and delve into these waters together, in an act of decolonizing our thought processes while learning new ways of being, knowing and supporting one another. Understanding Indigeneity outside of a monolith is an important step. That means respecting the opinions and teachings of each community, each individual.

Is a person meant to pair some Manitobah Mukluks with signature Hudson’s Bay Company striped mittens—one showing your appreciation of Indigenous culture, the other revealing just how deeply your thoughts are trapped in a colonial mindset? It’s a trendy look that makes me cringe.

I couldn’t buy the moccasins and couldn’t stop thinking about the colonial roots of Trading Posts—or Consumerism Posts as Chief Lady Bird of Mnjikaning First Nation (FN) calls them. I turned to her and Faith Redsky of Shoal Lake FN, two powerhouse Anishinabekwe artists, to help me  understand how we can support the Indigenous Femxle* & Two-Spirited economy across Turtle Island, while avoiding the colonial commodification, appropriation and racism often on glaring display alongside Indigenous-made products.

Both have travelled the same winding highway and are equally perplexed by the continued existence of Trading Posts. As Chief Lady Bird asked, “What are we trading when we go in? We are exchanging money for goods. It’s not really trading; it’s just capitalism and consumerism, you know what I mean?”

So what does it mean to enter a real trading post? Let’s strap on our non-binary lenses and delve into these waters together, in an act of decolonizing our thought processes while learning new ways of being, knowing and supporting one another. Understanding Indigeneity outside of a monolith is an important step. That means respecting the opinions and teachings of each community, each individual.

Faith Redsky

Faith Redsky

Faith Redsky is a beader, designer, painter, and potter. She is inspired by traditional Ojibwe florals, contemporary and streetwear styles, and incorporates as many bright and beautiful colors into her work. One of her most recent pieces include the use of birch bark; earrings, pendants, bags etc.

How do we tell the difference between Indigenous-made and non-Indigenous-made products? Are Indigenous-made items merely a sum of their physical pieces?

Faith puts it this way: “I am not a sweatshop, I put my spirit and energy into my work.” Expecting Indigenous artists to create “on-demand” for others has negative impacts on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. She shared the need for buyers to understand that purchasing from Indigenous makers may cost more than appropriated knock-offs—and that is because you are also paying for their teachings, spirit and the time to create for the world. To ignore this would be to undervalue the sacredness of the items. Faith shared her teachings that beaded jewellery should be treated as sacred and not be worn when consuming alcoholic or other mind-altering substances or in settings where those substances are present, such as night clubs. “Something that was authentically made and handmade…coming from materials that were hunted ethically, tracked ethically, tanned in the community by people who hold this knowledge from their ancestors and their family, there is just something about it. It kind of goes beyond words when you come in contact with something that is made Indigenously.”

What are the biggest barriers facing Indigenous womxn* and Two-Spirited entrepreneurs attempting to navigate these patriarchal colonial spaces?

Both Chief Lady Bird and Faith identified a myriad of barriers, including the transactional platforms themselves. Faith shared that the lack of a centralized space to find local Indigenous makers—such as a mass website where you could search for moccasins, mukluks, pieces of regalia, etc—poses a challenge for smaller makers seeking to sell their wares. However, a centralized site is not without issues, as Chief Lady Bird eloquently expresses. These systems of purchasing defy the traditional ways of reciprocal being and take the spirit out of the transaction. It’s why she doesn’t have a website for her artwork, but utilizes social media as the tool for both engagement and sale.

As womxn* from historically Matriarchal communities, they identified the consumeristic patriarchal society we exist in as the largest barrier. It places expectations on womxn*, Indigenous womxn* in particular, to take advice from non-Indigenous folks, meet unrealistic mechanical deadlines and follow the colonial ways of being. Boundary setting, and staying true to oneself and teachings, is challenging but also the most important part of being an Indigenous entrepreneur.

It’s an act of resisting appropriation. As Chief Lady Bird described, “the whole colonial consumeristic capitalist mindset is like ‘let’s make a bunch of this for less money so more people get it and we make more money’ and that’s never been the Indigenous way of making and selling our goods … This mentality is just so ingrained and a lot of people are stuck in the system without realizing that they are stuck in it.” She went on to discuss the personal impacts of appropriation when she publicly stood up against Amanda PL, a non Indigenous artist working in the style of an acclaimed Indigenous painter. The backlash she endured — horrendously abused online, degraded in public shopping centres—detrimentally affected her wellbeing. She felt isolated and alone against the colonial world despite the immense strength she knew she carries with her as a proud Anishinabekwe.

Chief Lady Bird

Chief Lady Bird

Chief Lady Bird is a Chippewa and Potawatomi artist from Rama First Nation and Moosedeer Point First Nation, who is currently based in Rama. She graduated from OCAD University in 2015 with a BFA in Drawing and Painting and a minor in Indigenous Visual Culture.

How can non-Indigenous folks respectfully participate in supporting Indigenous femxle* and Two-Spirited entrepreneurs?

Chief Lady Bird shared that when it comes to jewelry or artwork “the overall general rule and consensus from the community is for non-Indigenous people to simply do their research, do their work to make sure that they are forwarding, supporting and uplifting and purchasing wares from actual Indigenous artists.” However, she expressed that “in terms of something like ribbon skirts I feel like that it is a little bit different because that’s something we would wear to ceremony and I feel that if someone non-Indigenous is buying it, they are not necessarily wearing in the intended way” – that is unless they are accepted by an Indigenous community where they are welcomed to participate in ceremonies and hold the teachings to do so, like her sister-in-law.

Faith added that we must understand that not every Indigenous artist creates in the same ways. Buyers need to respect the teachings of makers and their spiritual journey as making products is not simply about their source of income. You can do this by politely asking questions and not belittling artists, which happens frequently when a non-Indigenous purchaser is told that something cannot be made exactly as they wish it to be.

And now that we have deepened our understanding and decolonized the trading post, where can we find and support Indigenous femxle* and Two-Spirited entrepreneurs?

This Indigenous Women’s Holiday Market is a great place to start your search.

The Indigenous Media Network has compiled this list of local makers.

The InuitArt Quarterly provides a search site,

And this CBC article provides a number of helpful links and search tags.

Faith Redsky is a self taught artist from Shoal Lake 40 First Nations. Currently living in Thunder Bay, and attending Lakehead University for her degree in Bachelor of Education and Visual arts. She is a beader, designer, painter, and potter. She is inspired by traditional Ojibwe florals, contemporary and streetwear styles, and incorporates as many bright and beautiful colors into her work. One of her most recent pieces include the use of birch bark; earrings, pendants, bags etc.

Chief Lady Bird is a Chippewa and Potawatomi artist from Rama First Nation and Moosedeer Point First Nation, who is currently based in Rama. She graduated from OCAD University  in  2015  with  a  BFA  in  Drawing  and  Painting  and  a  minor  in  Indigenous  Visual Culture. Chief Lady Bird’s art practice is continuously shapeshifting, and is always heavily influenced by her passion for empowering and uplifting Indigenous folks through the subversion of colonial narratives. She utilizes her social media platform(s) along with digital illustration, acrylic painting,  mixed media portraits, and murals to centre contemporary truths and  envision  Indigenous  Futurisms  by  portraying  intersectional  Indigenous  experiences and asserting our presence on stolen land. Specifically, much of her work is based on the stories we tell through the reclamation of our bodies and sexuality, which often intersects with land sovereignty and language reclamation, and activates peripheral dialogues about tattooing practices, cultural appropriation, reconnection and various forms of love (self love,lateral love, ancestral love). She hopes that her images can be a catalyst for reimagining our relationship with the land, each other, and ourselves.
Chief  Lady  Bird  has  illustrated  for  notable  organizations  such  as  Chirp  Magazine,  Flare Magazine, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Scholastic and Vice News to name a few. In 2019 she provided  the  illustrations  for  the  animated  video  “Land  Acknowledgements  And  Why  Are They Important” by Selena Mills and Local Love, which has been circulated widely throughout  many  educational  institutions  to  guide  educators  toward  a  deeper  understanding  of Land Acknowledgements and their cultural significance. She also created the book cover design for Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves UK release, and designed the #IndigenousPeoplesDay Turtle Island emoji for Twitter in 2018. In 2019, Chief Lady Bird illustrated the Scholastic children’s book Nibi’s Water Song authored by Sunshine Tenasco of Her Braids. This book follows the journey of a young Indigenous girl who fights for clean water for her community. As quoted by Quill and Quire: “Tenasco writes openly and honestly about the unequal treatment of Indigenous communities in Canada. Nibi’s song conveys the powerful message that clean water is a basic human right that should be afforded to everyone regardless of their ethnicity. The book successfully functions as a catalyst for an important conversation between parents and children.

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Publisher’s note: These photos were captured in Charlotte’s community this week and edited by Charlotte. Her mother, Cheryl Caven, consented to the submission of these photos.


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Allied Arts & Media

Stuff Your Stockings With Feminist Joy

 

Photo: Champagne Thompson

Most practices of the Christmas season contradict my feminist values, the gendered narratives of Christianity conflated into the season of “giving,” with women carrying the burden of holiday shopping, cooking, and social coordination. Then there’s the “give and get”—giving a charitable donation in time to get a charitable tax receipt by year end.

For me, holiday giving and celebrating should not be powered by a capitalistic consumer agenda but by love, thoughtfulness, kindness. During the holiday season, winter solstice in particular, I focus on hope and gratitude for female* energies rather than the pinging of POS machines in shopping malls driving us into debt. Do our loved ones really want that? I don’t think so.

This year I endeavoured to find a way to engage with the festivities, in ways that make my heart happy. I visited three events featuring feminist makers and changemakers: the Made by Feminists Market at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel; Ottawa’s Feminist Fair; and the Indigenous & Ingenious Show and Sale in Toronto. You can check out their crafty arts online, as I am sure they will inspire you to new ethical shopping heights, as they did me.

Here are some of my feminist faves that are sleighin’ it!

 SaSa Naturals, Toronto

This powerhouse family team walks the feminist talk! Sisters Sarai (22), Jahdiel (25), Kristine (27), and their mom, Carolyn, run SaSa Naturals, an ethical, all-natural approach to self-care that emphasizes the power of women’s bodies. The co-founders are incredibly knowledgeable about each product and ingredient as well as traditional hygiene and wellbeing practices of women around the globe. They source goods directly from female-run shea nut farms in Ghana and even visit regularly to ensure female farmers are being treated equitably and that plant-based products are produced sustainably and free from chemicals. Products include all-natural deodorant alternatives, delectable soaps, bath bombs, lip chap and Yoni steam kits (unlike Amazon’s selections, these vaginal cleansing kits use herbs that honour the sacredness of womanhood). By using traditional medicinal practices rather than chemicals, the SaSa team is building a sassy brand that reminds women that our natural selves are our true selves. Check out their Instagram page to place orders that can be shipped to both Canada and the United States.

 Radical Roots

Kristen Campbell, an ecological restoration maven, founded her company almost two years ago as a way to make beautiful change in the era of climate crisis. She handmakes seed bombs—ethically sourced native plant species balled up in clay—that you can chuck at any barren patch during your morning walk or your own garden for that matter. Add rain, and flowers spring up. Bees and butterflies will love you, as native habitat springs from these flower bombs. Beautifying the world has never felt so therapeutic as hucking an enviro-friendly bomb of life to Mother Nature! An excellent gift for the outdoorsy, flower-loving, tree-hugging types in your life or for anyone who just wants to drop an f-bomb—and feel great about it.

 Read My Flowers

 

Helena Verdier discovered a love for transformative upcycling while studying at Carleton University. Now 26, she has made a business of repurposing some of our favourite literature into works of visual and wearable art. She creates paper flower crowns, centrepieces, and floral decor, showcasing and selling her flower-power pieces on her Instagram page. Seeing Verdier’s artistry highlighted on the Feminist Twin’s page enticed me to make the trek to their Feminist Fair in Ottawa for their sixth annual event where I discovered plenty more feminist gift-giving ideas.

 Hand Stitched by Claire

Remember those framed embroidery pieces hanging in grandma’s house, greeting you with cheesy, sentimental sayings, like “Home is where the heart is” and all that? Well, Claire DePoe-Collins’s embroidery art is not that. The 30-year-old stitches radical, feminist ideas into her hoops such as “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and “Ovaries before brovaries” as well as slogans for the woke such as “If it is inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary” and “Hang on lemme overthink this.” She also draws on racialized voices for inspiration. From Serena Williams: “The day I stop fighting for equality…will be the day I’m in my grave.” Such soulful, gut-punching, and often hilarious affirmations gave me the most painful belly laugh—and sure to deliver the same kick to your pals. DePoe-Collins ships her work straight to your door—and accepts custom orders should you know exactly what will tickle a friend’s feminist fancy.

 Chief Lady Bird

At Indigenous & Ingenious, I visited Chief Lady Bird, an Anishinaabekwe artist who resists colonization through her mixed media prints, brilliant murals, skateboard decks and youth-focused projects that focus on Indigenous resilience, sex and body positivity, as well as calling attention to the importance of Indigenous women in our communities. She recently illustrated Nibi’s Water Song, a brilliant children’s book about Nibi’s quest to find clean water in her community, highlighting the need to listen to Indigenous voices and protect our planet for future generations. You can order Chief Lady Bird’s art on her Instagram page. She takes commissions for custom pieces too.


But the greatest
gift I took away from my foray into these feminist fairs? The knowledge that every dollar we spend casts a ballot for the world we want to inhabit. One maker told me that the money she made at the event will help pay her rent this month. When we buy from our brilliant sisters, we are also giving a gift of survival and support in the fight to dismantle the patriarchy. Now, I can deck the halls with that!


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https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/11/22/merry-little-inclusive-holiday-season/