8 Indigenous Designers Who Need To Be On Your Radar

SEP 19, 2017

Let me preface by saying that making lists like this is hard you guys. Because obviously, there are so many incredible Indigenous designers out there. We’ll be profiling artists hailing from all sorts of creative disciplines and classifications. But, for today, I’m all about mocassin and mukluk makers, textile, beadwork, home decor, fashion and furniture designers! Consider this a V.1 in this category, with more to come.

I had the opportunity to interview many of those featured here today, veterans and
up-and-comers alike, and had much fun doing so. I hope you enjoy getting to know these talented artists a bit more with this peek into their creative process, how it all began for each of them, and what drives them to wake and make!

(1) Adina Tarralik Duffy // Ugly Fish  
Ugly Fish began with a borrowed Dremel in a small porch in 2008. “Working with antler and bone turned into a way to quiet my restless mind. The hours would pass without notice and I knew this is something I wanted to do as long as I was able”, Adina shares. The name Ugly Fish is a play on the Inuktitut name for a sculpin which is ‘kanajuq’ or, ‘ugly fish’ as we called them as children. The inspiration behind everything she does as a designer is to use what she has available and not waste anything. Adina and her partner Aaron Regnier design together from their home studio in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, working with the gifts of the earth to make each unique, one-of-a-kind piece. “Each piece is magical because there is a sacredness when working with natural materials and carrying on the Inuit tradition of using every part of an animal.” Ugly Fish’s clothing line features bold, fresh prints that are a celebration of Nunavut life and their collection is available at The Winnipeg Art Gallery & The National Gallery of Canada boutique.
(2) Angela DeMontigny // Independent
A Cree/Metis with a “passion for fashion” that began when she was 12 years old, Angela and her amazing growth and evolution as a veteran in the Indigenous fashion and design world has leaped borders right into mainstream classification. With her heritage being the foundation behind all of her work, Angela aims to incorporate elements of her culture in all of her collections whether it’s a custom fabric print, use of leather or hand beaded accessory. “It’s extremely important to me to present a contemporary side of indigenous art and culture to the world. I want to say that we (Native people) are thriving, creating beautiful things that incorporate traditional arts/skills. My designs aim to be an example of what ‘Indigenous Luxury’ is.” Angela looks forward to lecturing and facilitating workshops to mentor others and educate audiences on the history of indigenous people in North America, our culture, art, and the influence they have had on the mainstream fashion industry while continuing to mentor and collaborate with other up-and-coming Indigenous designers. The future is bright for Angela and her initiatives/collaborative projects outside of her house of design too. She’s recently co-founded the recent launch of the Ontario Fashion Exchange in Hamilton, Ontario, and we can’t wait to see what’s next!
(3) Barbara Akoak // Inuk Barbie Designs 
Originally from Cambridge Bay, Barbara — or Barbie as many call her — now resides in the territorial capital Iqaluit, Nunavut. She simultaneously graduated from the Jewellery and Metalwork Diploma program at Nunatta Arctic College and started her business in 2015. As a goldsmith and visual artist, she enjoys working with precious metals and stones merged with naturally and humanely harvested local materials, (bowhead whale baleen, walrus and narwhal ivory, bone, teeth, raven claws, the 3 types of seal claws, polar bear claws, sealskin, muskox horn and caribou antler). “My work honours these animals, my Inuk femininity, and often I find myself creating pieces of our sea goddess Nuliajuk, mother of all water life. Nuliajuk is important to me because it’s our right to worship in peace, so we must protect our waters and life that inhabit the waters. I create my work holistically, sober, and with dignity and respect”, she shares. “I give my lines of tunniit or kakiniit earrings a name; I don’t want to number them. Being a number reminds me of the government-issued numbers the previous generations of Inuk before me endured. No names. There is no value in a number to me. Nunavut fashion, to me, however, shows our language, our body language. The ceremony of life shows through our hand-made work and fashion. Just the ability to show my culture is all I need to design.”
(4) Catherine Blackburn // Independent

Born in Ile a la Crosse Saskatchewan, of Dene and European ancestry, Catherine is a member of the English River First Nation. She grew up in the small rural town of Choiceland, Sk., and holds a BFA from the University of Saskatchewan. A bead artist, painter, and jeweler, this is a multidisciplinary woman whose common themes as an outstanding artist address Canada’s colonial past, often prompted in her work through her own personal narratives. Her work embraces two inspirations in her life-family and culture — and speaks to the complexities of memory, history, and identity as an Indigenous person in Canada today. Her art merges contemporary concepts with elements of traditional Dene culture, spurring dialogue between traditional art forms and new interpretations of them. Catherine has exhibited in many notable exhibitions; most recently at the renowned 2017 Bonavista Biennale, as one of only 26 Canadian artists!
(5) Destiny Seymour // Indigo Arrows
An Anishinaabe Interior Designer from Winnipeg, Manitoba Destiny decided to go out on her own last August departing from a 10-year stint with a Winnipeg architecture firm. Suffice to say, she hasn’t looked back as she’s dedicated all of her creative fire into the textiles that she creates; inspired by locally excavated Indigenous bone tool carvings and pottery shard patterns from Manitoba ranging from 400-3000 years old! Destiny names her patterns in Anishinaabemowin and includes tags that describe where the patterns come from. Each product tells a story,  sharing Indigenous history merged with modern design. Her next big goal? Increasing production for textiles and creating more custom furniture, branching out into rugs and wallpaper. (Yes, please!) “I have two young daughters that really inspired my leap into entrepreneurship. First, I wanted to spend more time with them. Secondly, I want them to be proud to be Indigenous and aware of their history.”
(6) Jaymie Campbell // White Otter Design Co. // Mantitobah Mukluks Storyboot Artist
An avid outdoorswoman, paddler, traveler, and photographer, Jaymie is an Anishnaabe hailing from Curve Lake First Nation. She is the Associate Director for the Cree nation in Northern Alberta who has been creating art since she was a small child, learning from her mother who was taught by her grandmothers. “Art runs in my family, and I feel the most connected to my ancestry and the most grounded when I am sewing. I am inspired by my grandmothers, who were quillwork artists, my mother, my father, who is a painter. I also owe a massive thank you to the Cree elders who have taught and continue to teach me the old ways, which inspire much of the work I do.”
(7) Roberta Anderson // Independent // Mantitobah Mukluks Storyboot Artist
Originally from George Gordon First Nation in southern Saskatchewan, Roberta is an immense talent,  who has survived residential schools to become a successful artist. She learned many of her skills as an adult in a program aimed at opening markets for Indigenous artists and expanding knowledge about traditional crafts run by Manitobah Mukluks. “They opened doors for me that I don’t think I could have opened myself”, Roberta shared in an Ottawa Citizen interview. Roberta mentors other beginning artists and youth in the tradition of mukluk making and beading as one of our Storyboot School artist-teachers, now held in cities across Canada.
(8) Trip Charbs  // Independent // Mantitobah Mukluks Storyboot Artist
From pine creek First Nation, Trip learned how to bead when he was 7! He reconnected with the craft 6 years ago after his brothers passing, and in seeing and meeting other successful Indigenous artists and musicians, he was deeply inspired to develop his own brand — for and with his people. His signature Angel Wing Collection has become quite exclusive amongst his extensive selection of earrings, necklaces, bowties, mukluks, and other accessories. “I want to go whereever my work will take me, and so far it’s been opening up a lot of great doors. I’m planning on releasing a ready to wear line of prints while maintaining my couture jewelry and accessories line, as well as working on developing my couture clothing line!”

About The Author
Selena creates digital content, and art, shares stories, wrangles children and cooks delicious food. When the chaos permits, she’s a 4 seasons gardener and permaculture enthusiast. A perpetual dabbler, she has been known to freelance as a brand designer and stylist, artisan, and body positive coach. Clearly, she doesn’t like rules, but she really likes kids and helping other women get organized, cultivate self-confidence and time to nurture themselves. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.