Nearly two years after its launch, an art program at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society (KFS) is guiding urban Indigenous Youth to expand their skills in both creativity and business.
The social enterprise called Original Born Art (OBA) was created to promote local Indigenous artists and teach Youth about the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship — which has included mentorship, educational workshops and hands-on work experience.
The Youth in the program create merchandise such as t-shirts, posters and mugs utilizing the artists’ designs — then those items are sold online and in-person at KFS. Through the process, the Youth gain skills in areas such as product development and design.
Paige Janvier, who is Denesuline and from Bigstone Cree Nation, is a Youth co-ordinator at KFS and is one of 10 part-time staffers and contractors working at OBA this summer. Through the social enterprise, she’s helped produce mugs, sold items at vendor markets, honed her time management skills and more.
“It’s almost like being your own boss in a way, that creativeness that you can have,” said Janvier.
“Coming here, you have space to do what you want. I can print out whatever I want, I can come in and help whenever I want — really being your own boss and having that creative responsibility.”
An aspiring graphic designer, Janvier said that OBA has given her the opportunity to experiment with digital creative designing apps, and she is in the process of sketching her own design.
“It opened up a whole lot of possibilities that I wouldn’t have had beforehand,” she said of her time at KFS.
Janvier recently helped print and apply a design created by local Ojibwe artist Sarah Jones to dozens of mugs, as OBA rolls out their Pride month merchandise. For their clothing, stickers and other products created for commemorative events such as Red Shirt Day and Orange Shirt Day, OBA uses the designs of local Indigenous artists, including Jones.
Kody Woodmass, the former strategic planning coordinator at KFS, said that the social enterprise is always looking to promote the work of Indigenous Youth and other local artists.
Woodmass, who is Red River Métis, was one of the main architects behind the development of OBA.
“The opportunities for where this project can grow are anywhere,” said Woodmass. “It depends on what the Youth want.”
Not only are the artists paid for their work, but the funds raised through product and merchandise sales are redistributed back to KFS, specifically their Cecemala (Youth) Services Department. Funds raised help support Youth workshops, cultural events and land-based programming.
“We wanted to create a way that people can go back out into the land that people used to. We would do gathering, traditional knowledge sharing where we would show people what are some different foraging opportunities, or what are these native plants in Kelowna. We were doing things like tool-making, hikes,” said Woodmass.
“It’s all about getting back to the land and understanding the beauty behind it.”
A number of local businesses have supported OBA over the years by selling or showcasing their products, including Fireweeds Boutique, Okanagan Heritage Museum, Okanagan College and more.
Woodmass said that the overwhelming community support is a reflection of people taking their first steps towards truth and reconciliation.
“They’re coming in, asking how to support and how they can be part of the solution,” he said.
“I think that’s what it’s all about, is coming together, walking together and learning together.”