Indigenous 1st Designs opens at the Centre Mall in Saskatoon


“We really wanted to showcase our identities as Indigenous people and give opportunities to local artisans to buy their crafts and their artwork and sell them through our store.”

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Businesses and non-profit organizations regularly open and move in Saskatoon. Today the StarPhoenix talks to Andrea Custer, who last year opened Indigenous 1st Designs in Prince Albert with her husband Randy Clarke, and has now expanded to the Centre Mall in Saskatoon.

Despite not having a retail store background, Clarke and Custer saw opening their stores as an ideal opportunity to promote Indigenous companies and products.

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Both proud members of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, they have a rich background in education and language, and wanted to use their stores as a way of showcasing Cree and other Indigenous languages in many of their product offerings.

Indigenous 1st Designs
Natanis Couillonneur, a customer service representative at Indigenous 1st Designs, with a selection of the Cree language books offered at the store in the Centre Mall. Photo by Michelle Berg /jpg

Q: What kinds of products do you sell?

A: There’s a wide variety of things that we sell in our stores. Just recently we purchased about 15 different books so we can have a good variety of books with Indigenous authors, or the books have a focus on language.

We sell Red Rebel Armour from Winnipeg. He has a bunch of neat graphic arts for his clothing. We sell hoodies, jackets, t-shirts, ribbon skirts and hats. Most of the blankets, sheets and curtains we carry are from an Indigenous company called Dene Cree design.

We also offer First Nations University of Canada shirts, hoodies and hats. We are the only store in Saskatoon or Prince Albert that carries them. Otherwise the only way to access them is if you’re a staff member or a student at First Nations University.

We have soaps, lotions and candles from Sequoia Soaps, a Mohawk company based out of Ontario. And we have jewelry made by local Indigenous people. Our beaded lanyards and earrings are very popular. We buy from different local bead artists.

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We have moccasins and mukluks that are mostly made by Indigenous people. We have carvings like little mini axes on a tree stump, canoes, birch work. We also sell drums and rattles.

Q: Are all your products made by Indigenous people or companies?

A: I would say about 75 per cent of our products are Indigenous made or made by indigenous companies. Some of the stuff for sure is by non-Indigenous companies; the largest is called Canadian Distributor. The goal ultimately is going to be 100 per cent Indigenous-produced items.

Q: What are your backgrounds?

A: Randy has a degree in justice and then he has an after degree in education and his specialization is in land-based education. He also worked in politics for a long time. He grew up on the land in Northern Saskatchewan in the reserve of Southend and he’s a speaker, hunter and fisherman. He’s really rich with cultural knowledge about the land and the waters.

I grew up in Pelican Narrows, within the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation reserve. A lot of my time was spent on the lands in our traditional family camp on the Churchill River. Cree is also my first language. I also grew up with a rich cultural and language landscape.

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My education background includes a degree in Indigenous studies, a secondary teaching degree and a masters in land-based education. Now I’m a PhD student in language revitalization. I’ve been a Cree teacher for over 10 years now. I’ve taught all the way from preschool up to university students. I think I’ve covered just about every age group.

Q: What made you decide to open your stores?

A: The reason we wanted to open the store in Prince Albert was that Randy’s cousin was the owner of Dene Cree Designs. He wanted out of the business and he approached my husband and asked him to buy the store and take over the lease. At first my husband was really hesitant. He doesn’t have a business background and neither do I. But then we thought about it and we thought this would be an investment for our family.

We really wanted to showcase our identities as Indigenous people and give opportunities to local artisans to buy their crafts and their artwork and sell them through our store so they would have an avenue to showcase what they could do.

Q: You also provide Indigenous language products and resources in your stores?

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Of course language is my background and actually the first thing I developed in collaboration with First Nations University students was a thing called kinship mugs.

Kinship mugs feature titles in our languages for family members. Instead of mom it would be nikāwiy, which is the word we use for mom in Cree. Or nohtāwiy for dad, nohkom for grandma, nimosōm for grandfather and so on. That’s still in progress. We still have a lot more to develop. But that was really popular with people.

People wondered why we don’t do different languages for these. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a lot of the people who speak different languages, but this year I collaborated with five people from different language groups.

Our Every Child Matters shirts (that come out in fall) feature seven of eight Indigenous languages found in Saskatchewan. These are really good words and I really appreciate how I get to promote our Indigenous languages. For Every Child Matters we have shirts, coffee mugs and signs. We actually collaborated with a couple from Edmonton and we created Cree signs, and those ones feature our values.

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This interview has been edited and condensed.

Indigenous 1st Designs

Owners: Randy Clarke & Andrea Custer
Address: Centre Mall (Near Ardene)
Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday & Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Phone: 306-954-7778
Email: [email protected]
Check: Facebook

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