Grand Chief Derek Fox highlighted the beauty of Indigenous arts and crafts on the first day of the Aboriginal Artworks Group of Northern Ontario’s 20th Annual Christmas Indigenous Fine Arts and Crafts Show and Sale. The annual Christmas arts and crafts sale was held at the CLE Heritage Building in Thunder Bay.
“This beautiful artwork, it’s awesome, it’s mitts, it’s toques, it’s beaver hats, it’s moccasins, mukluks, you name it,” Fox says. “Anything and everything that you need to find is here, beaded designs, lots of floral work.”
Fox says the arts and crafts sale also provides an opportunity for the artisans to show off their art, talent and skills.
“They really get a chance to show off their skills and show off the things they’ve been taught from their loved ones that may not be here with us here today,” Fox says. “There’s a lot of Elders, as you can see they’re even working at it as you walk by, they’re just constantly (working on) their moccasins and sewing and beading. It’s amazing to see, and I think the biggest thing about this is just the sense of community — it’s good to see our people gathered here, given what we’ve just gone through with two years of COVID-19. We haven’t had the opportunity to visit with one another so I think it’s extremely important that we get that chance to see one another and visit and laugh and share stories and see what’s been going on with one another.”
Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse says the arts and crafts sale encourages the artisans to continue doing the traditional arts and crafts.
“I’m here to support the First Nations craftspeople and also other people that are here too promoting their work,” Wabasse says. “It’s a really good show and I think it’s a good thing that we continue to support that and do these craft shows every year. I’m also glad that each of our First Nation communities are involved — there is a cost involved in doing the show and I encourage all our (citizens) and Aboriginal people to continue to support these craft shows.”
Ashley Bach, co-chair of Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s Oshkaatisak (All Young People’s) Council, says she loves spending her money on Christmas presents and buying from Indigenous artisans.
“It’s a really great way to make sure money goes back into community and supports people and the artists directly,” Bach says. “This is an awesome market, there’s a ton of vendors selling a whole range of items. It’s not even 1 p.m. yet and some tables have already sold out, which is really great to see.”
Tehya Quachegan, a member of the Oshkaatisak Council, says she loves the arts and crafts sale, noting that she went every year while growing up in Thunder Bay.
“There’s a lot of old-school crafts, it’s like a treasure,” says. “It reminds me of being a kid and going to the halls in my community and seeing all the kokums with all their crafts. I bought some old-school canvas boots. It’s just nice seeing all the Elders faces but also the contemporary art, it shows the evolution of Native craft all in one space.”
John Etherington, from Kapuskasing, says he and his wife have been making tamarack geese for about 45 years, noting that they begin by collecting tamarack twigs from on the land and then separating the twigs into different lengths.
“The scraps that I can’t use, I use that as the body inside the bird,” Etherington says. “Then you use the branches that you can make the heads out of. It takes a lot of work, a lot of people I do a workshop with, they didn’t realize how much work goes into each bird that we do until they get a hands-on experience with them. I do turtles now too, and I also add some tamarack on driftwood, I sold all those ones now.”
John Ferris, founder and coordinator at the Aboriginal Artworks Group of Northern Ontario, says this year’s arts and crafts sale was amazing.
“Last year we had the COVID-19 protocols going on still and this years it’s just opened up the doors for everyone, so there’s a lot more traffic in this place,” Ferris says. “We had 70 tables at the beginning, but I requested 20 more. The tables are absolutely filled right up and there’s more artisans that want to come in.”