Indigenous youth marketplace ditches bucks for the traditional barter

·3 min read
From left to right, Gabrielle Fayant, Amanda Fox and Julianna Grant showcase some of the items available for trade at the new Indigenous marketplace. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
From left to right, Gabrielle Fayant, Amanda Fox and Julianna Grant showcase some of the items available for trade at the new Indigenous marketplace. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

Hidden in a small room inside Ottawa's Bronson Centre, a traditional marketplace for Indigenous youth carries everything from medicinal herbs to handcrafted clothing to moose meat.

Cash, debit and credit are useless here.

Instead, the Indigenous youth-led non-profit, Assembly of Seven Generations, encourages youth to trade and barter for items they need as a way to revitalize Indigenous traditions and fill a need in the pandemic.

"It's really kind of addressing a few gaps but also bringing back old ways of doing things," said Gabrielle Fayant, the non-profit's co-founder.

"It's not a store or a food bank, but it's in the middle somewhere."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

The initiative, which opened in March but then had to shut down during Ontario's stay-at-home order, tries to help improve access to things like fresh produce, cultural items and wild game.

The first trade involved moose meat.

"We knew that we wanted to get more traditional meats and foods so we just started looking for connections," said Julianna Grant, a youth volunteer.

"We went on a little road trip to North Bay and stopped by my uncle's house and we had picked some gifts to trade in exchange for the moose meat ... some beautiful blankets and some maple syrup."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

'Indigenous pride and joy'

Since opening the marketplace, the non-profit has also offered frozen fish, smoked buffalo meat, and deer through connections with local hunters and fishers.

The stock constantly changes, but shelves have recently displayed porcupine quills, caribou fur, traditional medicines like smudge and sweetgrass, beadwork, cedar, and Indigenous-made clothing

The organization also uses some of the goods in its programming, including beading workshops, knowledge-sharing webinars, the creation of an Indigenous clothing line made by youth, and the planting of a community garden with medicinal herbs.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

"Indigenous youth are always telling us they want to be a part of their cultures. They want their cultures to be alive and thriving," Fayant said.

"A lot of these things, they're either [used for] practices that have been compromised by colonization or you have to travel so far out of the city to access them, even to a different territory.

"It's bringing a little piece of home back and Indigenous pride and joy."

'Going back to our original roots'

While trading and bartering is a tradition shared by various Indigenous communities, Fayant acknowledged not all the items they receive will have the same significance across cultures — but that's not a bad thing.

Amanda Fox, an Ojibway woman, traded in seal skin saying "this isn't my place to use", and an Inuk youth gladly could use it.

"Apparently I was the first person to go to their marketplace," said Fox. "I didn't know that, but they had moose meat on the first Monday so it was really nice to receive some of that."

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

Fox also recently started to trade her own beading and artwork as a way to "remember where we came from and those old traditions we can still use."

"Part of a teaching I received in the past year was about going back to our original roots, maybe not consuming as much, and trading what you can when you can," she said.

Fox has returned a few times over the spring to donate and trade her jewellery, as well as ribbon skirts and Indigenous floral-patterned face masks.

"That's just my way of giving back to them after all they've done for me," she said.

The marketplace is open by appointment only to members of Indigenous communities every Monday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Bronson Centre.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting