Sudbury·Audio

Face mask initiative sending masks with Indigenous designs to remote First Nations

Several remote First Nations on the James Bay coast will soon be getting shipments of face masks with designs by Indigenous artists. For each mask Tyson Wesley sells, he's donating a children's mask to Kashechewan, Fort Albany or Attawapiskat First Nations. 

Tyson Wesley started the Indigenous Face Masks initiative as a way to give back to his home community

For every mask sold through the Indigenous Face Masks initiative, another is donated to a child in a remote First Nation. (Submitted by Tyson Wesley)

Several remote First Nations on the James Bay coast will soon be getting shipments of face masks adorned with designs by Indigenous artists. 

Last week, Tyson Wesley started selling masks online. And for each one he sells, he's donating a children's mask to Kashechewan, Fort Albany or Attawapiskat First Nations. 

Wesley currently lives in Ottawa, but is from Kashechewan First Nation. He came up with the idea for his Indigenous Face Masks initiative as a way to give back to his home community, and meet a local need. He says within a few days of launching his website, he's sold more than 500 masks. 

"We've actually sent masks to B.C. …  and Newfoundland and Labrador, and we sent one to Colorado in the United States," Wesley said.

"We're kind of sending our masks everywhere from coast to coast to coast. So it's been really interesting to see that interest all over the place."

Limited access 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Wesley says he's heard about how masks — in particular children's masks — could sometimes be difficult to access in his home community. 

"There's only one big retailer in the community that's servicing us. So they don't really have a wide selection," Wesley said. 

Tyson Wesley started the Indigenous Face Masks initiative as a way to give back to his home community, and other remote First Nations. (Submitted by Tyson Wesley)

He's partnered with local representatives in Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Attawapiskat to distribute the masks. Christina Edwards is the Wellness and Care Coordinator with the Attawapiskat First Nation Education Authority. She says she was glad to partner with Wesley when he contacted her with the idea.

Edwards says reusable masks aren't inexpensive, "especially we're in a remote location."

"I know a lot of families are struggling … especially with students returning back to school," Edwards said. 

Celebrating Indigenous art

The masks for sale include 15 designs, ranging from Metis art to woodland florals. Beyond helping to meet a local need, Wesley hopes the masks will also offer a way to promote Indigenous art. 

"When a kid wears our mask in the community, they're showcasing our art, a celebration of our culture at the same time," Wesley said. 

Given the success of the initiative so far, Wesley hopes to partner with additional First Nations. (Submitted by Tyson Wesley )

In launching the website, Wesley set a goal of being able to donate 250 masks to each of the three communities he partnered with. Given the success within the first few days, he expects to be able to meet that goal within a couple weeks. 

He says he's now looking into expanding the initiative and partnering with other remote Indigenous communities. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

now