Behind the screen: Indigenous filmmakers fight for better representation

By Bree Duwyn

Indigenous representation in North American films have included a long and devastating history of stereotyping and generalization.

Misrepresentation is typically portrayed in many Western films. In these films, Indigenous people have been wrongfully portrayed and described as drunk, violent, savage and exotic.

For example, Disney classics such as Pocahontas and Peter Pan have displayed Indigenous people as spiritual beings with little to no knowledge, showcasing a less complex perspective of Indigenous life.

These two films depict the two main stereotypes that Indigenous people are typically portrayed as in films: the “Native Warrior” and the “Indian Princess.” The “Indian Princess,” as seen in Pocahontas, details a young Indigenous woman as weak and mild — a damsel in distress.

The “Native Warrior”, as seen in Peter Pan, is the generalized term used in film to describe Indigenous people as dangerous, savage and uncivilized. In addition, their physical appearances depict stereotypical red skin and long black hair donned with a feather. Their hair covers their eyes, giving them no true face or identity.

A scene from  Peter Pan  where a young Indigenous woman, Tiger Lily, is held captive by Captain Hook and rescued by Peter Pan. (Via  YouTube )

A scene from Peter Pan where a young Indigenous woman, Tiger Lily, is held captive by Captain Hook and rescued by Peter Pan. (Via YouTube)

Stereotypical terminology is also used within the film. An Indigenous woman is seen calling Wendy a “squaw” which is a derogatory term for an Indigenous woman. “Injun” is also used, especially throughout the song What Made the Red Man Red?,  which is a demeaning term for Indigenous people. This is in reference to the stereotype of Indigenous people learning all the ways of life from the European settler society.

The Lone Ranger (2013), a more recent adaptation of the characters of John Reid and his Indigenous friend Tonto, sparked controversy when it was first released.

Johnny Depp was casted as Tonto, which angered some Indigenous people and groups, who considered this casting to be racist.

Similar to the characters in Peter Pan, Tonto is the film industry’s stereotypical “Native Warrior” who communicates with animals and speaks broken English, among other things. This is an example of generalizing and stereotyping within the industry.

Misrepresentation of Indigenous people can result in false knowledge and misunderstanding of their lifestyle as a whole. For this reason, the efforts of Indigenous directors and producers put into bringing an end to the misrepresentation is very important.  This is not only to create more accurate films that portray the Indigenous community properly, but to create a shift in the relationship between societies.

Indigenous directors on the portrayal of Indigenous people in the Canadian film industry

Indigenous filmmakers, Caroline Monnet and Gwaai Edenshaw, share their perspectives on the portrayal of Indigenous people in the Canadian film industry.

They have the same hope for the roles of Indigenous people to be be more modernized, day-to-day roles instead of the limitations Indigenous actors and actresses have often been faced throughout film history.

Indigenous actors/actresses “should be allowed to play superheros, mothers, daughters, doctors, or any other common roles that is not necessarily culture specific,” said Monnet in an email interview.

Caroline Monnet

Photo courtesy    coco.monnet    via Instagram

Photo courtesy coco.monnet via Instagram

Caroline Monnet is an award winning Algonquin-French filmmaker and visual artist specializing in installation and printmaking from Outaouais, Quebec and now lives in Montréal.  

Monnet’s work has been exhibited in various film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Clermont-Ferrand vidéformes in France.

Monnet is well known for films such as Ikwe, Emptying the Tank and The Seven Last Words.

Inspired by other female Indigenous filmmakers in Canada such as Danis Goulet, Helen Haig-Brown, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Lisa Jackson, Monnet wanted to “be apart of that same energy” that these filmmakers had created.

These filmmakers were telling important stories without fear of directing and producing, according to Monnet and she was inspired by this.

Through her films, Monnet hopes to “convey an emotional experience with insights into Indigenous struggles and reality. I want my films to remain accessible to a large audience while keeping artistic integrity and vision,” said Monnet.

She also hopes that with her work, audiences can be submerged in the experience so they have a better understanding of Indigenous realities, identities and communities.

“Films for me have to be a multi-sensorial experience where images and sound collide in order to inform, inspire and challenge audiences,” said Monnet.

Monnet explains how she has been working towards breaking the stereotypes of Indigenous representation in film. She finds it her job to flip the script and create positive images of Indigenous people on screen.

“Challenge what is being put out there and go against the redundancy of what is presented in the media. There are so many different ways to express indigeneity and most often medias only choose one perspective,” said Monnet.

To her, it is very important that Indigenous filmmakers are given the opportunities to breathe life into their films.

“It is a necessity in the Canadian film industry because today we are still lacking that diversity and still too often Indigenous stories are being told by non-Indigenous perspectives and filmmakers,” said Monnet.

Monnet believes this can often lead to the romanticization or stigmatization of Indigenous representation within film.

As a filmmaker, Monnet aspires to successfully direct her very first feature this upcoming fall.

“I hope to have the strength, dedication and clear vision to bring my project forward. I hope to contribute to indigenous cinema and Canadian cinema overall. I hope that this film can touch international audiences and reach far beyond the indigenous community it is putting on screen and that a story that happens on a native reserve can become a universal story of humanity,” said Monnet.

Gwaai Edenshaw

Gwaai Edenshaw (second from left) and family.  Photo courtesy    gwaai    via Instagram

Gwaai Edenshaw (second from left) and family. Photo courtesy gwaai via Instagram

Gwaai Edenshaw is a Haida artist and filmmaker from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.

Edenshaw apprenticed under the late artist Bill Reid beginning at the age of 16 and holds a jewelry and art design diploma from Vancouver Community College. His art exhibits in galleries nationwide, as well as Seattle, Washington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Edenshaw primarily works in wood carving and jewelry making, however, in 2017 began the project of SG̲aawaay Ḵ'uuna (Edge of the Knife) with co-director, Helen Haig-Brown.

Edge of the Knife is the first Haida language feature film based on the traditional Haida story of Gaagiixid the “wild man”, who loses his hold on reality in the forest before returning to his community in a healing ceremony.

The film premiered at TIFF in 2018 and won various awards such as Best Canadian Film and Best British Columbia Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

In addition, the film won Best Director and Best Actor from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle, an organization that promotes Canadian films and the British Columbia Film and Television Industry.

Edge of the Knife also received the Sun Jury Award at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts festival.

Edenshaw is a founding member of Q’altsi’da Kaa, the Haida storytelling group that promotes the Haida language as it has approximately 20 speakers on the islands.

The film proved to be an excellent opportunity to share and promote the Haida language and was also filmed on Haida Gwaii.

The process of Edge of the Knife began with Edenshaw and his brother, Jaalen, writing the script, along with Graham Richard and Leonie Sandercock.

“Our goals were around storytelling, probably like any other movie. Our guiding light was that we were making the movie for our people. So, in terms of the hometown audience, we didn’t want anyone to feel patronized or anything of the sort, that they would feel like this was their movie,” said Edenshaw.

Edenshaw also described the film as a story of facing mental health issues, addiction, etc.

It is about recognizing the hard points that an individual can experience in their lifetime, and being there for them in their time of need, according to Edenshaw.

“When someone is the hardest to be around but that is their time when they need us the most,” said Edenshaw. “That is a piece of the story that we are telling.”

The inspiration behind Edge of the Knife was the notion to create a piece of art that would involve the Haida language and conjure excitement around the language, according to Edenshaw.

“We wanted to have something, in terms of our language goals, that they could be part of an immersive experience,” said Edenshaw.

The script began in English as Edenshaw and his co-writers consulted with Elders and other knowledgeable people of the Haida language in order to transform the script.

The final translation stage consisted of a group of people coming together to make sure the dialects were communicating with one another, according to Edenshaw.

Edenshaw fondly recalled the moment when the team came together to make the translations agree. Two translators, Diane Brown and Delores Churchill, originally expressed nervousness heading into this process.

“They felt like they wouldn’t understand the other person, worrying they might not get along. In the end, they wound up having a great time together and really being able to help each other even in their separate dialects,” said Edenshaw.

Edenshaw had explained the process of translation as a moment of joy and found it important for himself to be a part of that experience.

The production of Edge of the Knife was a labour of trust and the sharing of knowledge through culture and language — a unique opportunity to share with the world a language that is not well-known.

Efforts towards the revitalization of Indigenous languages are ongoing and there are many people who have dedicated their lives to this process, according to Edenshaw.

“With this film we can offer another tool for learning,” said Edenshaw in relation to expanding the film in a second edit to include more opportunities to further learn the Haida language.

“Our people should be doing whatever we can to learn our language and make language common place and a part of our lives here on Haida Gwaii. It provides one more incentive for young people to learn language. They can learn the language because it can help them to land a role in future films because we’ll always be doing these movies in Haida,” said Edenshaw.

The film industry has made steps towards demonstrating a more accurate Indigenous representation. However, Indigenous voices need to continue to be heard and valued in the process of the creation of these films in order to produce real and genuine Indigenous portrayals on the screen.

Get the look: Your 6 favourite TV characters

By Bree Duwyn

With the rise of Netflix original shows, Canada has finally earned its way into the popular television industry. Three of the company’s most popular original series, Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and A Series of Unfortunate Events, were filmed in Vancouver, placing Canada one step closer into the TV limelight.

These shows have more in common than just the filming location. Their combination of mystery and adventure, their dark and alluring plots with moments of heart and humour, all create the unique dynamic of each show.

In Riverdale, the main characters often hang out at the Whyte Wyrm, known in the real word as Gabby’s Country Cabaret, in Langley, B.C. This spot and Langley itself has grown in popularity lately, primarily because of the show’s success.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina films mostly in Cloverdale, Surrey, a suburb in Metro Vancouver. A staple location in the series is a bookstore, Cerberus Books. In real life it was known as Dann’s Electronics, but is currently empty for filming.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was filmed at Whites Ironwood Studios, with locations is both, the north and south parts of Vancouver.

These popular shows feature creative sets, props and fashion. You can get the look of your favourite characters at popular stores such as H&M, Forever 21 and Aritzia.


Photo courtesy thecwriverdale on Instagram

Riverdale is a hit Netflix original series, that also airs on The CW Television Network. Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are reinvented on screen from the original Archie Comics as the dynamic best friend duo. They’re solving the mysteries of their town, Riverdale, alongside Archie Andrews and Jughead Jones.

Just like vanilla and chocolate, sugar and spice, the styles of these two complement their friendship and personalities.

Betty’s style is cute and playful, while maintaining maturity and vibrant colours. For instance in season 2 episode 6, she pulls off a cute pair of denim overalls, a piece she’s been spotted in throughout the series. You can get a similar pair of overalls online at ModCloth and to complete the look, a similar white long-sleeve shirt from Aritzia.

Photo courtesy thecwriverdale on Instagram

Throughout the show, Betty pairs the overalls with an abundance of colours and styles. Solid colours and patterns such as stripes look well against the denim, and fitted shirts complement the fit of the overalls.

Betty shows off her quirky personality in colourful prints on sweaters, such as hearts, flowers and stripes.

Betty is most often seen in a simple pair of jeans and a sweater. This pink pullover can be paired with high-waisted denim jeans, to recreate her casual look.

These items can be found at Free People (sweater) and ModCloth (jeans).

To add a twist to Betty’s denim overall style, check out this cute overall skirt from Forever 21.

Photo courtesy forever21canada on Instagram

Veronica’s style is bold and confident, with a breath of sophistication. Her style consists of collared dresses. They vary from black with pure white collars to ones with a pop of colour.

Both dresses are from ModCloth.             

For a more daring look, check out this cape dress, similar to the ones Veronica wears. For a preppy look, Veronica often wears fitted polo tops, like this one. It’s both casual and bold.

Veronica also often wears vibrant and youthful crop tops, as well as sweaters with a bow.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Photo courtesy sabrinanetflix on Instagram

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina details the life of a teenage witch named Sabrina Spellman. This show is also derived from the world of Archie Comics.

The story follows Sabrina as she copes with having a life in both, the mortal and the magical worlds. The show features numerous unique characters from both spectrums of the world.

Sabrina’s signature colour is dark red. She wears an array of clothing pieces in this colour, such as this buttoned coat.

She often wears knit turtleneck sweaters, ranging in colours and styles. This classic grey knit, this ruffle-trimmed knit and a bold ribbed yellow sweater, are similar to those she wears in the show.

These tops are often paired with black jeans and can also be paired with vintage skirts such as this, or plaid skirts like this one, available at H&M.

Another dazzling character from the show is Prudence Night, an empowered witch with a daring and wicked style.

Photo courtesy sabrinanetflix on Instagram

Prudence’s style is sharp, bold and mature. Her boarding school-esque attire is perfect for any occasion.

To make the ensemble pop, add chunky rings, tights and a pair of heavy black boots to complete the look.

When Prudence is not attending her witchcraft classes, she has a sleek and modern style.

You can find all the essential pieces of her outfit, including this skirt, shirt and jacket at H&M.

Photo courtesy hm on Instagram

Photo courtesy hm on Instagram

Harvey Kinkle, the beloved mortal boy and Sabrina’s on-again and off-again love interest, has pile-lined denim jacket as his statement piece. H&M sells mens denim jackets in both light and dark wash.

Photo courtesy sabrinanetflix on Instagram

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Photo courtesy unfortunate on Instagram

A Series of Unfortunate Events is a spinoff of a book series by Daniel Handler, under the pen name Lemony Snicket. This series airs on Netflix and has been a big hit for its mystery and alluring appeal of wonder and adventure.

Esmé Squalor is the villain of the show. Her fashion is very bold and outspoken. She rocks patterned pantsuits and has a dynamic power behind her personality.

Photo courtesy unfortunate on Instagram

NA-KD has a similar pink striped pantsuit in a modern and fun style.

Esmé also loves to wear leather. If you’re looking for an edgier look, these pants, this shirt, and this jacket is your way to go.

If you’re looking to change it up a bit this year, getting the look of these expressive characters can be a fun way to try new things and explore your style.

Trouble in the Garden: Indigenous Indie film brings attention to Sixties Scoop

By Bree Duwyn

A dancing scene from Trouble in the Garden (Courtesy of @troubleinthegardenthefilm on Instagram).

Award winning writer and director Roz Owen tackles important Indigenous issues in her latest film, Trouble in the Garden.

The film opened theatrically in Toronto at Imagine Cinemas Carlton Cinema and in Calgary at the Plaza Theatre throughout the week of Feb. 15 to 21. The film is also set to screen in Regina at the Rainbow Cinema Golden Mile from March 1 to 7. As well as at the Magic Lantern Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon from March 8 to 14.

Bailed out of jail and taken in by a brother she has not seen in years, Trouble in the Garden tells a story of an Indigenous protester, Raven, and her adoptive family who battle with betrayal and heartbreak.

The film is a fascinating journey that depicts a storyline that many Indigenous people faced as victims of The Sixties Scoop, a practice that took place from the late 1950s through the 1980s in which Indigenous children were taken away from their homes and placed into foster homes or put up for adoption. However, to this day there are still children being removed from their homes and put into foster care using the legal system.

Trouble in the Garden also tackles Indigenous treaty and land issues, as Raven fights for the rights of Indigenous people and their rights to land.

Owen’s inspiration in creating Trouble in the Garden comes from her sister-in-law, a Sixties Scoop survivor. She wanted to bring awareness to a topic not so often discussed.

Owen hopes to “flip people's thinking” and finds it important to use her film to bring awareness to the history of Canada’s dark past when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous peoples, she said. She also hopes that Scoop survivors who watch Trouble in the Garden will feel authenticity in the story.

To ensure she would tell the story with the most accuracy, Owen called Raven Sinclair who is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Treaty 4 located in southern Saskatchewan, a professor of social work — as well a Sixties Scoop survivor and activist.

Sinclair, who is also a filmmaker, values her work on issues of Indigenous child welfare, adoption and historical trauma and recovery.

Owen and Sinclair collaborated extensively to tell a genuine story that is raw, crucial and something that people need to talk about.

“I want people to see it and understand that everybody has a story and this story isn’t just the story of a survivor. There are themes that we need to understand to know a bit more about what our population has gone through,” said Sinclair in an interview with What She Said.

In order to nail down the dialogue in Trouble in the Garden, Owen also consulted Cara Gee, the Indigenous actress who plays Raven. Gee executes an excellent performance as the protagonist of the film — strong and capable all while being vulnerable and genuine.

Raven (Cara Gee) in a scene from Trouble in the Garden. (Courtesy of troubleinthegardenfilm on Instagram)

Owen said that a film can touch an individual on an intense level of emotion and her goal for Trouble in the Garden was to give that opportunity to the audience.

“Emotionally, I wanted to give people the opportunity to think. You can read so many statistics and get all this information but in the end, it doesn’t touch you. It can upset you but does not shake you up,” said Owen in an interview with CanCulture.

Trouble in the Garden is a heartbreaking yet beautifully crafted story that shines a light on Indigenous issues in Canada, all while maintaining a solid and truthful demonstration of the effects of the Sixties Scoop. It gives the world an opportunity to connect and forges a path towards recognition, reconciliation and respect.

Through Raven’s journey, the film depicts a storyline filled with change, growth and revelation. Raven battles with the lack of support from her adoptive family and the strenuous relationships between them, all while standing up for the rights she believes in as a protester for Indigenous lands.

Raven’s brother, Colin (Jon Car), is a real estate agent, which is problematic to her cause. Colin’s pregnant wife, Alice (Kelly Van der Berg), harbours distaste for Raven and believes she is a bad influence, especially for their young daughter, Gracie (Persephone Koty).

Once Raven is bailed out of jail by Colin, she is brought to their home, an outsider looking in on a picture perfect family, or so thought. Raven has never felt like she belonged to the family and shows moments of intense heartache when she recalls her past. She feels so distant that she pitches a tent in the backyard to escape the world and swim in her own thoughts, rather than breach the animosity and tense atmosphere within the family she never felt at home with.

Owen does an exceptional job of drawing in the audience through the emotions of Raven’s quick-tempered and fierce persona, which is evident right off the bat in the opening scene at a police station. The narrative also shows Raven’s gentleness as she timidly breaks out of her shell with the help of Gracie’s innocence and acceptance (expertly shown in an adorable scene of playing in the dirt within the garden behind the family’s house).

The audience is kept wondering about the slow-burning drama, before it implodes in a chaotic ending when Raven and Colin’s parents show up to stir up more aspects of betrayal and dishonesty, that drives home all the compelling elements of a raw story.

The Indigenous narrative in film is constantly growing and evolving within Canada, especially with the production of the Indigenous Screen Office in 2018, an organization that is assisting Indigenous media makers with the development of their content.

There is an interest in Indigenous stories due to an urgency for them to be told. Canada is in a process of Truth and Reconciliation, and the growth of the Indigenous film scene gives the opportunity to share Indigenous voices and experience.

Pow Wow Cafe brings taste of traditional Indigenous cuisine to Kensington Market

By Bree Duwyn

(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Pow Wow Cafe, home of the Indian taco, is adding to Toronto’s diverse food scene with a taste of tradition and indigeneity.

Growing up in Orangeville, Ont., chef Shawn Adler, owner of Pow Wow Cafe, first fell in love with cooking in high school. After a few years of experience working for various restaurants, Adler attended a two-year program at Stratford Chefs School.

At 23, Adler opened his first restaurant in Peterborough Ont., named Aasmaabik’s Bakery and Bistro - Aasmaabik being his name in Ojibway. This began a culinary adventure for Adler as he opened another handful of restaurants, including The Flying Chestnut Kitchen in Eugenia, Ont.

After selling a few of his restaurants, Adler decided to try out the culinary scene in Toronto. Known for its diverse array of vintage shops, cozy restaurants and colourful art pieces, Kensington Market delivers a multitude of cultures, making it the perfect place for Pow Wow Cafe to open its doors in October 2016.

Adler wanted to bring Indian tacos, differing from regular tacos because of the use of fry bread instead of tortilla shells, to Toronto and got the inspiration for their Kensington Market restaurant through his experience catering at various powwows.

A powwow is an Indigenous ceremony filled with dancing, singing (featuring drum circles) and feasting. It is a cultural and spiritual experience that encourages community gathering and celebration.

“I love catering because it poses a challenge. I like it because it’s often in a barn or the fields. It’s cool to create a field kitchen and do things other people can't do,” said Alder.

Adler holds pride in the originality and value of Pow Wow Cafe’s food, including their famous brunch that has people lining up out the door on the weekends.

“This cuisine is not a trend, it's here to stay,” said Adler.

Pow Wow Cafe also supports the Kensington Market community by sourcing their produce from shops within the neighbourhood, as well as Indigenous suppliers.

The restaurant keeps the ingenuity of Indigenous food alive through a variety of dishes based around fry bread. This includes their extensive brunch menu that features eggs, oatmeal and more.

Pow Wow Cafe’s brunch, displayed on a wooden board, is a big hit with the locals and new visitors. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Pow Wow Cafe’s brunch, displayed on a wooden board, is a big hit with the locals and new visitors. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Adler’s plans are to further expand Pow Wow Cafe and continue to expose people to Indigenous cuisine.

“I knew in Toronto, there wasn't anyone doing cuisine like we were doing,” said Adler, “So I found this location and the rest is history,” he said.

You gotta try this…

Being someone who thoroughly enjoys food, I am always ready to try out new dishes. After being welcomed by the pleasant staff, I felt comfortably at home inside the cozy restaurant.

Adler advised me that the Indian taco topped with beef was the best choice if I wanted to enjoy a traditional experience.

The appetizers and Indian taco menu are displayed promptly on a chalkboard of Pow Wow Cafe’s wall. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

The appetizers and Indian taco menu are displayed promptly on a chalkboard of Pow Wow Cafe’s wall. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

The taco begins with sweet, melt in your mouth fry bread and beef chili topped with cumin sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese, jalapeños, cilantro, sprouts and flowers, including calendula and pansies.

A traditional beef Indian taco with all the fixings at the price of $15. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

A traditional beef Indian taco with all the fixings at the price of $15. (CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

It was incredibly filling and delicious, not to mention wonderfully plated. All the elements of the taco went great together, producing an abundance of flavour and texture. The traditional beef Indian taco is definitely a perfect meal on a chilly day.

If you're not one for beef, Pow Wow Cafe also offers a chicken shawarma and seafood Indian taco. For any vegetarians, a red lentil coconut curry option is available.

The restaurant changes its menu often to offer various sensational combos of Indian tacos, but the traditional beef taco will always remain. It's definitely worth taking a trip to Kensington Market or stopping by Pow Wow Cafe whenever you're in the area to grab an authentic Indian taco or try their famous brunch.

Pow Wow Cafe is located at 213 Augusta Ave. and is open seven days a week.

Inkdigenous Tattoo studio: Embracing Indigenous art and culture through tattoos

By Bree Duwyn

Inkdigenous Tattoo studio offers a safe place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to share their passion for art.

Métis activist and tattoo artist, Toby Sicks, created the Toronto-based studio in 2017 with the aim to promote Indigenous artists while raising awareness and breaking down the stigmas that surround their communities.

“We have a beautiful place where people can come in, get together and share stories,” said Sicks.

Sicks felt like he never got the opportunity to fully express himself while working for other people or while completing apprenticeships. This kick-started his motivation to pursue a different path.

The path led Sicks to attending George Brown College where he enrolled in a community worker program in order to gain experience working with the community, as well as learn more about his culture and traditions, including anti-oppressive practices.

After getting in touch with his roots and involving himself with community events to fight against the inequality of Indigenous people, Sicks took up tattooing professionally.

A  custom chest piece  designed by Toby Sicks that was made to symbolize spirituality and ceremony for a customer undergoing a healing journey. According to Sicks, the piece symbolizes the customer’s cultural identity of the Kanyen’kehà:ka Mohawk nation. Learn more about this custom tattoo in this  video  by APTN. (Photo courtesy of   Toby Sicks   via Instagram)

A custom chest piece designed by Toby Sicks that was made to symbolize spirituality and ceremony for a customer undergoing a healing journey. According to Sicks, the piece symbolizes the customer’s cultural identity of the Kanyen’kehà:ka Mohawk nation. Learn more about this custom tattoo in this video by APTN. (Photo courtesy of Toby Sicks via Instagram)

In addition, he participates in charity events to raise awareness for Indigenous issues such as  fundraising events to raise awareness of youth suicide prevention in Indigenous communities, as well as missing and murdered Indigenous women and The Pipeline Project.

Sicks explained there is a lack of Indigenous tattoo studios and that by opening up his own, he could promote culture as he was influenced by his community work and the time he spent dabbling in tattoos.

“It's not just for myself per se, it's also for other Indigenous artists,” said Sicks. “I’m looking for different mediums, different designs that I’m able to put in my studio. So, I could be looking for designs from different nations across Canada, not just a specific style or person.”

Sicks exhibits a variety of Indigenous art styles inside his studio to promote diversity of culture. He displays art pieces such as paintings, handmade jewelry, custom-made merchandise and even plays Indigenous music in the studio to encourage others to appreciate different forms of Indigenous culture and art.


(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

Sicks also explained the importance of giving homage to art or artists that inspire him to create tattoos and through this, gaining the appreciation for the artwork and acknowledging its origin.

“This is a way of crossing out the cultural appropriation factor, to show the appreciation for the different arts out there,” said Sicks.

There is also a chance to be educated on the origin of the tattoo, in order to put more value into the significance of tattoos as art.

“It’s a little more than just getting an Indigenous art piece on you … you’re also getting an education behind it, stories and meaning,” said Sicks. “It is very important not to lose concept of who you are as a person, the loss of identity is like forgetting who you are. You lose place in society. Once you do know your traditions, culture and place in society it's easier for you to build within your community and help the members within the community.”

Sicks believes in discovering yourself and your culture to find yourself in a positive manner within society.

A Unique Experience

While in Inkdigenous Tattoo, I found myself admiring the room with its compelling art pieces and welcoming atmosphere, making it easy to start a conversation. You can find an abundance of snacks and a comfortable waiting area within the studio which gives off a homey vibe.

Sicks enthusiasm about tattooing is contagious as he feels passion and pride in his work while exuding confidence. Sicks was also very humorous and charismatic in nature, which is excellent for making his clients feel at ease.

When a client came into the studio I found myself having the opportunity to watch Sicks, for an entire afternoon, do a cover up tattoo.

Not having seen a tattoo been done before, I took up the offer in order to benefit from the learning experience and see Sicks’ art come to life.

After deciding on a design of a three-eyed raven, inspired by Game of Thrones, Sicks drew up the piece and began the transformation.


(CanCulture/Bree Duwyn)

I was also able to aid in small things such as folding paper towels or helping him to use a numbing spray on the tattoo. Getting a chance to be involved and watch the process of the creation of art was a great learning experience and I felt very welcomed. I quickly came to understand Sicks’ meaning of a safe place for community to come together and share stories.

After the day was done, I felt a genuine appreciation for the patience, skill and positivity that tattooing requires.

Inkdigenous Tattoo studio is located at 124 Jarvis Street in Toronto and is open 7 days a week.