Work of passion gains momentum

A young Cree artist speaks about her budding business and aspirations for the future

While​ ​homemade​ ​jewelry​ ​and​ ​ink-based​ ​artworks​ might​ ​not​ ​be​ ​an​ ​unheard​ ​of​ ​​business​ ​idea, not​ ​many​ ​can​ ​say​ ​their​ ​orders​ ​are​ ​flown​ ​out​ ​of​ ​Quebec’s​ ​​northernmost​ ​Cree​ ​community.

Saige​ ​Mukash,​ ​a​ ​20-year-old​ ​Cree​ ​woman,​ ​calls​ ​her​ ​business​ ​Nalakwsis​—the middle name her​ ​Abenaki grandmother gave ​her​ ​in​ ​her​ ​native​ ​language. Nalakwsis​​​ ​products include ink​ ​drawings,​ ​digital​ ​artwork,​ ​beaded​ ​jewelry​ ​and embroidered​ ​works, all​ ​hand-made​ ​by​ ​Mukash​ ​herself. While​ ​she is​ ​a​ ​creative​ ​woman​ ​by​ ​nature and ​always​ ​enjoyed​ ​making​ ​pieces​ ​with​ ​her hands,​ ​Mukash​ ​only​ ​recently​ ​chose​ ​a​ ​more​ ​organized,​ ​business-oriented​ ​path.

“I​ ​chose​ ​‘Nalakwsis’​ ​as​ ​my​ ​official​ ​business​ ​title​ ​about​ ​a​ ​year​ ​ago, but​ ​I’ve​ ​been​ ​serious​ ​in​ ​my​ ​work​ ​for​ ​the​ ​past​ ​two​ ​years​ ​now,”​ ​Mukash​ ​explained. Though,​ ​what​ ​is​ ​now​ ​a​ ​profitable​ ​business​ ​first​ ​started​ ​out​ ​as​ ​a​ ​passionate​ ​hobby.

Mukash​ ​attended​ ​F.A.C.E. School ​in​ ​the​ ​heart​ ​of​ downtown ​Montreal​, ​where​ ​she​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to exercise​ ​her​ ​artistic​ ​abilities​ ​and​ ​express​ ​herself​ ​through​ ​various​ ​mediums ​in​ ​an​ ​organized​ classroom setting.​ ​However,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​returning​​ ​to​ ​her​ ​Cree​ ​community​ ​up​ ​north that​ ​had​ ​the​ ​biggest​ ​effect​ ​on​ ​her.​ ​“My​ ​art​ ​really​ ​blossomed​ ​when​ ​I​ ​came​ ​to​ ​Whapmagoostui​ ​to reconnect​ ​with​ ​my​ ​Cree​ ​culture,”​ ​she​ ​said.

Mukash titled this piece, For the missing and murdered.

Not​ ​long​ ​after,​ ​Mukash​ ​created​ ​a​ ​Facebook​ ​page where​ ​she​ ​could​ post photos and descriptions of​ ​her art​ ​pieces;​ ​a​ ​sort​ ​of​ ​headquarters​ ​for​ ​all​ ​​her​​ ​works. As​ ​people began to show​ ​interest​ in buying ​her​ ​pieces​,​ ​Mukash​ ​realized​​ ​she would have to take further steps to establish her business​.​ ​She​ ​created ​two​ ​online​ ​shops ​where​ ​anyone​ ​in Canada​ ​with​ ​access​ ​to​ ​a​ ​credit​ ​card​ ​could​ ​purchase​​ ​her​ ​artworks.

It​ ​was​ ​then​ ​that Mukash​ ​knew​ ​she​ ​was​ ​in​ ​business. While​ ​she​ ​still​ ​lives​ ​​with​ ​her​ ​parents​ ​and​ ​two​ ​siblings in their home in northern Quebec,​​​ ​Mukash​ ​found​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to create​ ​her​ ​own ​workspace ​in​ ​her​ ​spatially​ ​limited​ ​environment. She​ ​has​ ​a​ ​small​ ​studio​ ​space​ ​in​ ​her​ ​home​ ​where​ ​she​ ​crafts​ ​all​ ​her​ pieces, packages and ships them​.

In​ ​the​ ​past​ ​month​ ​alone,​ ​Mukash​ ​has​ ​made​ ​over​ ​$1,000​ ​in​ ​sales,​ ​and​ ​spends​ ​an​ ​average​ ​of​ ​$200​ ​on​ ​supplies per​ ​month.

However,​ ​living​ ​three hours​ ​away​ ​from​ ​Montreal by plane is​ becoming​ ​more​ ​and​ ​more​ ​of​ ​a​ ​problem. Due to​ ​her​ ​isolated​ ​location,​ ​Mukash​ ​must​ ​order​ ​all​ ​of​ ​her​ ​supplies​ ​online.​ ​“It’s​ ​getting​ ​very hard​ ​to​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​supplies​ ​online.​ ​Shipping​ ​is​ ​getting​ ​very​ ​expensive​ ​for​ ​my​ ​community, which​ ​is​ ​a​ ​fly-in​ ​only​ ​community,”​ ​she​ ​said.

Not​ ​only​ ​are​ ​all​ ​of​ ​Mukash’s​ ​supplies​ ​located​ ​hours​ ​away,​ ​so​ ​are​ ​the​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​her customers.​ ​Shipping​ ​fees​ ​are​ ​added​ ​onto​ ​every​ ​sale​​ ​she​ ​makes. Yet, while​ ​these​ ​obstacles​ ​are​ ​present​ ​in​ ​the​ ​young​ ​artist’s​ ​day-to-day​ ​plans,​ ​she​ ​is​ ​not​ ​letting​ ​them slow​ ​her​ ​down.

“I​ ​think​ ​my​ ​first​ ​long​-term​ ​goal​ ​for​ ​my​ ​business​ ​is​ ​owning​ ​a​ ​studio​ ​here​ ​in​ ​my​ ​home​town,” Mukash​ ​said.​ ​“It’s​ ​a​ ​struggle​ ​for​ ​anyone​ ​here​ ​to​ ​own​ ​their​ ​own​ ​business​ ​because everything​ ​is​ ​under​ ​the​ ​Band​ ​Office. You​ ​can’t​ ​just​ ​go​ ​and​ ​sign​ ​a​ ​lease​ ​for​ ​an​ ​apartment.”

“My​ ​own​ ​studio​ ​space​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I’m​ ​saving​ ​up​ ​for,” she said. “​That’s​ ​what​ ​I’m​ ​aiming​ ​for.”​

For more information about Saige​ ​Mukash, visit her Facebook page or website.

Photos courtesy of Saige Mukash

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