#BuyNative movement pushes product for Indigenous creators

The hashtag is meant to bring attention to Indigenous creators in hopes more people support them. Clothing, art, jewellery and food products are being showcased by artisans and their supporters. And it's having an impact.
Thomas Baril was one of the vendors at the all-Indigenous holiday market in Edmonton on Dec. 9. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

Hundreds of people shuffle their way through the cramped gymnasium at Alex Taylor school in Edmonton for the Indigenous Artist Market Collective holiday market.

"It's almost like putting people in a sardine can," said Taz Bouchier, who was selling some items for a friend of hers. 

The tables ended up bare, too — many vendors of the all-Indigenous market sold out of items.

It was a resounding success for Larisa Kreider, an Indigenous community development social worker with the City of Edmonton. She helped organize the event, which offered the booth spaces to Indigenous artisans for free.

The #BuyNative movement has always existed within Indigenous communities — but the Twitter campaign is meant to encourage other people to shop from local Indigenous vendors. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"Sometimes, a table can run anywhere from $100 and up," Kreider said. "Many of them are way more. So we try to reduce the barriers to help Indigenous people access the market."

The large influx of people at the craft fair shows a desire to buy local Indigenous products.

It's a conversation that's also spilled over onto social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, with many Indigenous artists and supporters pushing the #BuyNative movement.

The hashtag is meant to bring attention to Indigenous creators in hopes more people support them. Clothing, art, jewellery and food products are being showcased by artisans and their supporters alike.

Conscientious buyers

Tanka Bar, a company that sells a meat-and-fruit energy bar, has received a noticeable boost in sales from the Twitter movement.

The bar is inspired by the Native American food wasna, a meat and acidic berry mixture, and actively works to give back to the community.
Mark Tilsen is the president and co-founder of Tanka Bar. (Mark Tilsen/Supplied)

President and co-founder of Tanka Bar, Mark Tilsen, said 27 per cent of the buffalo meat they use is from Native American producers — and they want to get to 100 per cent.

But for now, they've focused on giving back to the land however they can — and in turn, consumers have responded by buying and promoting their products through the #BuyNative campaign.

"I wish I could say we were smart enough to do it ourselves, but one of the things we've learned about our brand is the more we give it away and the more we share it with the community, the more it comes back to us," Tilsen said.

"This is one of those benefits."

The #BuyNative hashtag is a result of trying to minimize imitation products that weren't made by the people of that culture. It's meant to curb multinational companies from taking space from Indigenous producers, like in the meat-and-fruit bar market.

"We've been paid the ultimate compliment of plagiarism where some of the largest food corporations in the world have adopted the meat-and-fruit bar format that we innovated," Tilsen said.

"There's a long history of Native people being denied the opportunity to profit off their own natural resources and I'm really encouraged by these conscientious buyers."

Kreider is encouraged by the support, too — she hopes to find a bigger space for more vendors to come out next year. "People want to support Indigenous people so they prefer to buy local, Indigenous-made," she said.

Bouchier agrees, paraphrasing a Métis leader Louis Riel quote. "It's the artists that are going to change the way people look at us," she said. "And that's exactly what's going on here."