One local Indigenous artist and business owner has made it her mission to brighten the holidays for Indigenous youth this Christmas.
The first Indigenous Christmas market in the region, A Very Indigenous Christmas market will transform the Victoria Park Pavilion with a variety of Indigenous artwork, medicine, and jewelry from several talented artists this November.
“Indigenous people in Kitchener have these amazing abilities, skills, and knowledge but don't have any outlets to sell their products other than some social media,” said Amanda Trites, host of the market and owner of Ariluke Designs. “And a lot of our people aren't really familiar with social media so they really rely on community powwows and stuff like these markets to make a living.”
Trites often comes across the myth that Indigenous people don’t celebrate Christmas, something she hopes to bust with the market. Rather than focusing on gift-giving, Trites hopes the community aspect of her market will trickle down to the youth in Victoria Park and other disadvantaged situations, allowing them to reconnect with their culture.
“I understand that there's usually a lot of trauma associated with Christmas for Indigenous people … because of residential schools, a lot of our community were taken away from their families, not allowed to celebrate Christmas, or when they did go home it was to very broken people,” said Trites. “My goal is to really start having more events like the market where it brings the community together so we can change that narrative.”
A proud Anishnabeg (Ojibwa/Algonquin) woman in the Bear Clan, with family ties to the Serpent River First Nations, Trites didn't grow up with her culture. While she felt most connected to her ancestors at powwows and when she was experiencing or creating Indigenous art, it felt like the closer Trites got to her Indigenous roots, the further away from K-W she ventured, which was impossible without a vehicle.
This struggle inspired Ariluke Designs.
“There was a large portion of our community without access to Indigenous materials because the closest place for us to go was Six Nations,” said Trites. “So I started to develop this dream of a local space that was more accessible, someplace where people knew they were getting properly sourced items and artwork.”
Ariluke Designs is a family affair; her mother “has visions” for a traditional clothing line with an urban twist. Her sisters help with the store side, taking photos and delivering orders. Trites herself is a beader and healer.
Home to 11 employees crammed into a 10 x 12 office, Trites often outsources community spaces for one of their 23 different programs, like the community drum circle, due to space issues. However, this means that the group is resigned to outside legislation, which often prevents certain Indigenous practices like smudging.
“Another part of my store is when it comes to my community, I work under our Potlatch laws, which focus on bartering and trading,” said Trites. “So when I have somebody that comes to me for medicine with no money but say they’re a great beader, I will always follow our Potlatch laws, which would warrant that trade.”
A Very Indigenous Christmas Market is November 20 at the Victoria Park Pavillion. More information is available here.