Trip to Japan for Indigenous cultural showcase a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' for Saskatoon photographer

Saskatoon entrepreneurs Heather Abbey and Samuel Tipewan, who created the online marketplace Indig Inc., are taking their company, along with 30 delegates, to Tokyo for a week this summer.

Saskatoon-based photographer Elicia Munro-Sutherland says she’s looking forward to cultural exchange in Tokyo

'I wanted to base my work around Indigenous peoples and cultures, and to enrich power and beauty through my photos,' says Elicia Munro-Sutherland, a photographer for Indig Inc. — an online marketplace where Indigenous artists can sell their work. (Elicia Munro-Sutherland/Indig Inc.)

Update: Elicia Munro-Sutherland didn't end up going to Japan, she said in a Facebook post, because Heather Abbey never booked her flight. Full story here.

An Indigenous photographer from Saskatoon is getting the chance to show the beauty of her culture to audiences in Japan this summer.

Elicia Munro-Sutherland, a mother and a university student, is a Cree/Saulteaux woman originally from Beardy's and Okemasis' Cree Nation, 80 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. She says she has always had an interest in photography.

"I wanted to base my work around Indigenous peoples and cultures, and to enrich power and beauty through my photos," she said.

"I wanted it to mean something and what means most to me is my people and culture."

Munro-Sutherland is a photographer for Indig Inc., an online marketplace where Indigenous artists can sell their homemade items such as clothes, jewelry, and home decor.

Indig Inc. was created by two entrepreneurs from Saskatoon, Heather Abbey and Samuel Tipewan. They are taking their company, along with 30 delegates, to Tokyo for a week this summer.

A model showcasing some of the handmade jewelry from Indig Inc. (Elicia Munro-Sutherland/Indig Inc.)

"We're creating an opportunity not only for our vendors to see the world but for them to also realize that there are additional opportunities for growth as Indigenous small business owners," said Abbey.

"To be able to have that sort of peer support from all of these professionals is truly groundbreaking."

While in Japan, they will hold a cultural showcase where people can come and experience Indigenous culture. The showcase will feature live powwow music, powwow dancers and vendors selling Indigenous art and jewelry.

"Heather and I knew we needed to expand and break into different markets," Tipewan said. "We picked Japan because it just seemed natural to go there and just do something that has never been done on this level before."

Having never been to Tokyo, Abbey says that this "is a once in a lifetime opportunity" for her, and most of the other delegates.

Tipewan says they're still looking for vendors for the July 22-28 trip. There are travel grants available to delegates from Saskatchewan thanks to Creative Saskatchewan, which is funding the trip.

"Saskatchewan is our main focus but we've had submissions from people all throughout Canada," Tipewan said. 

Leaving an impact across the ocean

Tipewan says the delegates will get to tour tech and manufacturing businesses, as well as embrace the Japanese culture. He says he wants to make a positive Indigenous cultural impact in Tokyo.

"We want to build a friendship, where we go there and maybe they come back to Saskatchewan," Tipewan said.

Abbey says that for her, the trip is all about educating people in Japan about Indigenous culture.

"It's about giving the attendees of our gala event, the attendees of our trade show, the opportunity to not only meet us but to also realize that that we operate much like they do" she said.

"It's not the traditional stereotype of Indigenous people and characters that they see on TV."

Munro-Sutherland says she is most looking forward to exchanging cultures with the people in Japan.

"I want to bring more awareness of our people and our culture and that we're still here," Munro-Sutherland said. "I want to show them the true power and beauty of our people."

"It's a phenomenal opportunity to grow," said Abbey.

"The peer support and the networking that will exist beyond this delegation, and that will even continue into our next delegation, are all right here, and we really, really encourage everyone to apply."