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Jill Simser, an Indigenous artist and businesswoman, showcases her craft at the annual Indigenous Art & Entrepreneurship Conference. [Photo © Julie Tierney]

Indigenous Art and Entrepreneurship Conference works to preserve tradition, empower women

An expo on Indigenous art brought a flock of people to the St. Laurent Shopping Centre recently. The Indigenous Art & Entrepreneurship Conference provided a space for First Nations business people to teach and support one another.

The art marketplace, as well as all-day workshops on business and art for Indigenous women, attracted a diverse crowd. The event also gave non-Indigenous people an opportunity to learn about Indigenous traditions.

Women lined up to learn skills such as basketry, medicine wheel teachings and traditional art creation. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
Organizers said the purpose of the conference is to teach culturally significant art forms, like beading, quill work and moccasin making that have been lost over the years of colonialism. [Photo © Martin Halek]

Organizer Dawn Mary Francis said the hope is these teachings will be able to carry on to with the next generation.

The other purpose of the event was to display and promote Indigenous art.

These ducks, made from tamarack branches, are made by Linda Koosees. Kooses is a Cree woman from the James Bay area who creates art from what she finds on the forest floor. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
Claire Nahwegahbow (left) started doing beadwork after her husband died. Now she works with her daughter Kelly Nahwegahbow-Marsolais (right), producing traditional bead art for sale. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
Kelly Nahwegahbow-Marsolais uses traditional jewelry making methods with non-traditional components, such as semi-precious stones not found in the area. She says it is one of the adaptations she’s had to make as a modern business woman. [Photo © Martin Halek]

“I’m very proud to be First Nations and I’m very proud to be an entrepreneur,” said jewelry maker Kelly Nahwegahbow-Marsolais. “If I’ve inspired one young person in my time here, it’s all been worth it.”

Pam Cailloux has been painting her whole life. Her work has been described as borderline surrealism. For her, painting is an outlet for the “deep depression” she feels when looking at the news and seeing how humanity treats the planet. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
To combat that weighing sadness, Cailloux paints her muse, Mother Nature, in vibrant colour. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
Another vendor braided together a belt that can be worn during a powwow, or drum performance. [Photo © Julie Tierney]

Many artists say it is a welcome change to show their art outside of traditional Indigenous spaces. They believe it the exposure breaks down stereotypes and breaks down barriers.

Jill Simser, left, is from the Moose Cree First Nation. She sees the marketplace as a door opener. “Usually, participation in these markets requires vendors to buy a table to sell, but that’s not possible for many Indigenous women artists,” she said. [Photo © Julie Tierney]

Jill Simser says the atmosphere at the market is one of togetherness, where women share ideas and business tips with one another.

She has been beading since the ’90s but only started doing it professionally a few years ago. Her work combines synthetic and natural materials.

Simser’s beadwork incorporates sweetgrass she picks on the reserve where she grew up, which can only be accessed by canoe. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
Organizer Dawn Mary Francis, right, and workshop teacher Tealey Ka‘senni:saks dedicated the event to all stolen, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, performing a song in their honour. [Photo © Martin Halek]

Before the performance, one of the workshop teachers, Tealey Ka‘senni:saks, spoke about her personal experience with missing family — her daughter had gone missing as a child. “Your heart goes into your throat,” she said. “I hope no one ever has to experience that.”

Fortunately, her story has a happy ending. Her daughter, Rebecca Trepanier, was found.

Rebecca Trepanier (pictured above) and Ka‘senni:saks now work together at their family business, Tealey Products and The Honey Lodge, which specializes in leather crafts, bee keeping and natural honey products. They travelled from Kahnawake, Quebec for the conference. [Photo © Julie Tierney]
In the centre of the market was a red dress. It is a symbol of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and represents the resiliency of the community.. [Photo © Julie Tierney]

Mary Dawn Francis said the conference is a combination of restoring Indigenous culture and empowering sisterhood. “When I look at these women here today, we’re just so proud of each other,” she said.

Claywork from the Tyendinaga Mohawk reserve. [Photo © Julie Tierney]

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