Online auction group a boon to Inuit artists

A popular auction group online is helping sell Inuit arts and crafts all across the country.

Iqaluit Auction Bids getting hundreds of new members per day

An online auction group selling Inuit arts and crafts in Iqaluit popped up on Facebook in November.

In a city of about 6,500, its membership has exploded to well over 7,000. The page is now being credited with boosting the territory's economy, with a little help from the south.

Liz Fullenwider, who lives near Toronto, has never been up North and has no connection to the Inuit culture. But that hasn’t stopped her from scoping out the Iqaluit Auction Bids group on Facebook and splurging on several items.  

Liz Fullenwider, who lives in Toronto and has no connection to Iqaluit or Inuit culture, has bought several items from the online auction. (CBC)

"I've bought a couple of carvings. I've also got some kamiks [boots] that I've purchased and a hat and a slingshot for my son," she said.

Fullenwider said her footwear makes quite an impression at her Ontario church.

"I wear them to church and I greet at the door, and when people come in the first thing they see is me, standing there in my sealskin kamiks," she said

When the online group started up, only a few locals joined the page. But in the last four months, it has drawn buyers from across the country. Up to 400 new members sign up every day and the current total is more than 7,500.

Price increase good news for artisans

The numbers have driven business and increased prices.

"The average, normal, cost of kamiks were running anywhere from $200 to $500. And now it's going as high as $1,500," said David Alexander, the group’s creator.

With the prices for articles like these kamiks tripling, it's meant a boom for people who make them.

"It's helping individuals like me make extra income and buy necessities like fuel. It helps a lot," said seamstress Alicee Joamie.

Most customers aren't fretting about the prices.

"The prices are good. I noticed the kamiks — they run fairly high, but when you're buying direct from the people making them, it's worth it, to support them," said Fullenwider.

Lori Idlout, the owner of Carvings Nunavut, said when items from her store are shown on the site, they get more interest from potential buyers.

Idlout said the group hasn't negatively impacted her store's sales. She said the market for Inuit art is ballooning due to people like Fullenwider.