Indigenous artists and craftspeople go online to connect with holiday shoppers

Indigenous artists are selling their beadwork, crafts, clothing and gifts this year online in virtual holiday markets.

'Making a purchase from one of these women makes a huge impact,' says holiday market organizer

Dana Connolly makes bath bombs, body butter, lip balm and candles infused with traditional Indigenous medicines. (Kayleigh Lagimodier)

Dana Connolly is one of hundreds of Indigenous artists who are selling their beadwork, crafts, clothing and gifts this year online as part of virtual holiday markets.

"It's a way that we can actively support each other and care for each other in a time when we all know we're struggling and we can't actually be together," said Connolly.

Connolly is from Peguis/Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba and started selling Indigenous wellness products through her brand, Medicine Garden Society.

As the associate director of Winnipeg non-profit organization Ka Ni Kanichihk, Connolly said she didn't intend to start a small business. She started making bath bombs, body butter, lip balm and candles infused with traditional Indigenous medicines a few years ago.

After learning about the properties of traditional medicines, she started making gifts for her family and friends with whom she attended ceremonies. Last year, a friend asked her to sell some of her creations at the annual Indigenous holiday market in Winnipeg.

"I had six baskets left over and I made a post and then people bought them within minutes, so there was tons of interest," she said.

She recently posted a list of her products on the Shop Indigenous Women's Holiday Market Facebook group, a virtual market with over 24,000 members.

The Shop Indigenous Women's Holiday Market was started by Michele Young-Crook on Nov. 3. Young-Crook is Algonquin-Ojibway from Pickering, Ont., and is the president and CEO of the National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association.

She started the group after realizing that Indigenous women wouldn't have their usual markets to sell their products during the holiday season.

"For a lot of these women, this is their only revenue — making products and going to trade shows. So I was trying to create a virtual vendor-type thing and just came up with the idea to create this marketplace so that women would be able to have their little stores," said Young-Crook. 

"A big part of this that inspired me to do it was also economic reconciliation. A lot of people need to start putting their money where their mouth is. Instead of saying, 'I wish I could do more,' well, making a purchase from one of these women makes a huge impact compared to just constantly feeding Walmart and Amazon money."

Reaching wider market 

Gerri Sharpe, who is Inuk from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, spends her spare time making custom earrings, mitts, and other crafts. 

Gerri Sharpe created this woman's trapper style hat made out of seal skin and blue fox. (Gerri Sharpe)

This holiday season she has supported Indigenous artists by purchasing art pieces from Inuvik, N.W.T., from Facebook groups like Inuit Auction Bids.

She said online groups help craftspeople and artists in the North who used to be limited to selling their items locally find wider markets and get a better price for their work.

"The [groups] have definitely helped elders because they're able to reach customers that they would not normally be able to reach," she said.

"With the kamiks, for instance, the average price that they'll get is about $1,200, where before Facebook they were only getting $400, maybe $500."

Another person using the Shop Indigenous Women's Holiday Market to connect with holiday shoppers is Andrea Sparvier.

Andrea Sparvier just started sewing last year. She makes items like ribbon skirts and starblankets and does it as a hobby for now. (Stacey Sparvier)

Sparvier is from Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and has posted a collection of sewn items including ribbon skirts, star blankets and car seat covers.

She started her own social media page Summer Solstice Designs after getting requests to sew items for her friends and family.

"The majority of the money I make from that goes right back into materials," said Sparvier.

"I don't make a living off it like some people do, but it's definitely helped it out a little bit."


Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1