From base layers to boots and snacks to accessories, we outdoor enthusiasts spend a pretty penny on gear and supplies each year. Many of us already try to spend our dollars wisely by choosing to support companies that do right by the environment, but if you’re looking for more ways to raise the positive social impact of your budget, here’s a list of five Indigenous-owned brands in Canada that will keep you warm, comfortable and well-fed on your adventures.
Founded and owned by a collective of Inuit artists based in Arviat, Nunavut, Hinaani creates clothing “inspired by our love for our culture, land and environment.” Their line of qarliit (bottoms) includes athletic shorts and compression-fit leggings. Made in Canada with eco-friendly materials, the leggings make for a great base layer in mild weather.
“We believe that having a strong relationship with our environment is a key aspect of living a healthy lifestyle,” explains lead designer Nooks Lindell. “I don't speak for all Inuit, but I know many Inuit and non-Inuit share my love and respect for the land even if they do not live in the North. We hope that Hinaani can be one way for people to show their pride for their culture, environment or community and build pride in themselves.”
To protect your skin and lips from wind, cold and other irritants, ethnobotanist Styawat / Leigh Joseph of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation has created natural healing salves as part of her skincare line. Skwálwen is a healthy, eco-friendly alternative to petroleum products that you can use to prevent chapping on the slopes or out on the water.
Leigh makes all her salves in small batches using sustainably harvested wild plants from her home territory, such as kw’enikwáy (wild poplar) and kalkáy (wild rose bush). The topical salves can also be used to help treat what ails you in the bush, including sore muscles and minor skin irritations like bug bites and small scrapes.
If your go-to trail snack is the ever-popular beef jerky, just wait until you try dry meat. Pânsâwân, meaning “thin sliced meat” in the Nehiyâw (Cree) language, was founded by Ian Gladue of Bigstone Cree Nation in Treaty 8 territory in Wabasca, Alberta. Using local, pasture-raised bison he creates protein-rich traditional dry meat and pemmican products. Pânsâwân is the first First Nations-owned company to make traditional foods in federally inspected facilities, and it’s now sold at major supermarket chains across western Canada and the northern territories.
“All of our products are made using traditional recipes passed down to me from my teachers, my mom and my Elders. Dry meat is one of the highest delicacies in our culture,” Ian says. “Everything we’ve done here, we’ve done in a respectful way. We asked the grandfathers for their help to preserve and restore these traditions, and we brought the vision into reality. It’s been a beautiful journey—a dream come true.”
Founded by Sean McCormick, a Métis entrepreneur from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Manitobah Mukluks has become a huge success story over the past few decades. Their line of waterproof, insulated mukluks (available in men's, women’s and kids’ sizes) are rated to -32 C and have flexible soles that make for comfortable walking and light hiking through the great outdoors, no matter the snow, rain or slush.
Along with their footwear, they also offer mitts, gloves and gauntlets. One hundred per cent of the proceeds from their non-profit handmade Storyboots collection go directly back to the Indigenous artists.
With almost all their garments made in Canada and all the printed designs created by Gitxsan artist Shar Wilson, Finawear’s micro-knit beanies and headbands make great lightweight head gear. They also offer sports bras and athletic leggings. Although plenty of large brand names sell “Indigenous inspired” designs, the financial benefit of those sales to the Indigenous artists who create them is dubious.
“Finawear was created and designed for everyone to wear,” Shar explains. “Each design has a story and when you wear my designs, you are stewards of my story. You are directly supporting an Indigenous woman entrepreneur.”