Three designers share how their work is rooted in a strong sense of place — and how visitors to Canada can engage in responsible travel.
Advertisement

Canada is one destination that Americans have been eager to return to now that the border has reopened. If you're booking a trip to Canada, consider including Indigenous tourism in your plans, whether through a stay at an Indigenous-owned lodge, like Klahoose Wilderness Lodge in British Columbia, visiting an Indigenous-run art gallery in Quebec, or doing a multi-day tour of Baffin Island with Arctic Adventures.

To give you some inspiration for your next adventure, Travel + Leisure spoke to jewelry designers Catherine Blackburn and Tania Larsson, as well as Martha Kyak, the founding artist at Inukchic Designs. These Indigenous artists shared how Indigenous traditions inform their work—and also suggested some of their favorite places to visit in Canada.

Two photos showing Canadian designer Catherine Blackburn, and a necklace of her design
From left: Catherine Blackburn; one of Blackburn's chokers, made with caribou hair and vintage Venetian beads.
| Credit: From left: Carey Shaw/Courtesy of Catherine Blackburn; Courtesy of Catherine Blackburn

What is your hometown?

Catherine Blackburn: "Patuanak, Saskatchewan." 

Martha Kyak: "Pond Inlet, Nunavut. I now live in Ottawa, Ontario."

Tania Larsson: "I was born in France, but my mom was Gwich'in and grew up in the Northwest Territories. We moved to northern Canada when I was 15, and I'm now based in Yellowknife."

Two photos showing portrait of Canadian designer Martha Kyak, and one of her modern designs
From left: Martha Kyak; an InukChic "Tuniit lady" dress and paniapik doll.
| Credit: From left: Fred Caroll/Courtesy of Martha Kyak; Nicolai Gregory/Courtesy of InukChic

Can you tell us about some of the crafting traditions you witnessed growing up?

Blackburn: "I grew up watching my setsuné [grandmother], who was an extraordinary beader and garment maker. I would watch as she skinned the animals and tanned the hides, and I would be in awe as she took these beautiful golden-brown pieces of leather and turned them into the most extraordinary pairs of beaded mukluks [soft boots] or beaver gauntlets [oversize mittens]. 

Kyak: "I grew up in a very traditional Inuit community; we spoke only our language, Inuktitut. There were only two stores, and we had to make a lot of our own clothing, so sewing was part of our culture. That's how I started making parkas. And then I learned to make amauti, which is a parka used to carry a baby, and that is a bit more complex." 

Larsson: "My grandma used to make all of my mom's and her siblings' parkas and mukluks by hand. So that love of the handmade was definitely passed down to me."

Pair of photos showing designer Tania Larsson, and beaded earrings of her design
From left: Tania Larsson; beaded, tufted earrings by Larsson.
| Credit: From left: Razelle Benally/Courtesy of Tania Larsson; Courtesy of Tania Larsson

What are some of your signature materials?

Blackburn: "I use traditional and nontraditional materials, including antique and contemporary beads, smoked hides, caribou and moose hair, porcupine quills, feathers, and rhinestones."

Kyak: "I use tanned sealskins, which are soft and flexible, to create my parkas. In Nunavut, hunting is still the main way of feeding your family and the community. Nothing is wasted." 

Larsson: "I tan my own moose and caribou hides and also use gold, silver copper, and beads. I'm now incorporating musk-ox horn." 

The interpretive playground at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, in Saskatchewan, Canada
The interpretive playground at Wanuskewin Heritage Park, in Saskatchewan.
| Credit: Courtesy of Wanuskewin Heritage Park

Where do you find inspiration?

Blackburn: "Adorning our bodies has always been a way of life for Indigenous people. In the early 19th century, though, Christian missionaries suppressed this form of expression. My work in adornment is an act of reclamation. It symbolizes the fact that we refuse to be minimized. My goal is to speak to my own contemporary presence and experience as an Indigenous woman, and celebrate that."

Kyak: "Inuit women, including me, have a lot of stick-and-poke tattoos on their faces, hands, arms, legs, and chests. Many of my fabric designs are based on those traditional tattoos. For example, the Inuit have a shallow oil lamp called a qulliq that has a wick running across the middle. When it burns, the flame dances across the top in a zigzag pattern. I have those same shapes tattooed on my own body and use them in my designs."

Larsson: "I want to create a sensory experience for the person wearing my pieces. For example, when you buy a piece of my beadwork, it's made on smoked hide. The wood that I harvest to treat the hide has a distinct scent. I love how you go through your day and get a whiff of that smoky perfume from the jewelry. Whenever we use all of the parts of an animal, we're honoring its gifts."

Rafting in Canada's Nahanni National Park
Rafting in Nahanni National Park Reserve.
| Credit: Courtesy of Destination Canada

What are some of your favorite places to suggest to travelers?

Blackburn: "I encourage travelers to learn the history of the land they're visiting. In Saskatchewan,I recommend Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park and Wanuskewin Heritage Park, which has art exhibitions and an Indigenous-owned gift shop.

Kyak: "Nunavut is a vast territory with so many beautiful places. Sirmilik National Park is near where I'm from, which is very far north in the Arctic. I also suggest the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, in Iqaluit, where you can learn about Nunavut history and culture."

Larsson: "A place I love to go every year is Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve for its clear waters and amazing fishing. The river in Nahanni National Park Reserve is perfect for canoeing."

A version of this story first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Canada Creatives.