Sarain Fox is an Anishinaabe dancer, storyteller, and activist. Born in Batchawana First Nation in Canada, Sarain is one of Canada’s most prominent Indigenous voices. She’s also TreadRight’s ‘People’ Ambassador, and part of TreadRight’s first North American Project, the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School.
Storyboot is a TreadRight funded project that shares the art of mukluk and moccasin making. Located in Toronto, Canada, the school teaches the traditional art of mukluk and moccasin-making in an effort to keep traditions alive and inspire the next generation of Indigenous artists.
Travel is an essential component of Sarain’s activism and storytelling. Through TreadRight, she uses her passion for representing and lifting up Indigenous people to empower travellers to recognize the impact they have and make that impact a positive one. We virtually sat down with Sarain to discuss the cultural significance of mukluks and how travellers can make Indigenous stories matter.
What inspired your activism?
I was born an activist. I come from a family who survived genocide. As an Indigenous person, I carry that truth and advocate for my people wherever I go.
Can you speak about your experience working with TreadRight?
I began working with TreadRight as an ambassador for the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School (MMSS) at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto back in 2018. We invited students to learn the art of moccasin-making from Indigenous teachers and welcomed visitors to experience that cultural survival in action. The support that TreadRight offers to the Storyboot School helps advance specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals like no. 10 “reduced inequalities” and no. 11 “sustainable cities and communities.” Today, I am TreadRight’s official ‘People’ Ambassador, and my work with the organization is critical. We are completely aligned with the importance of promoting sustainable tourism and educating travellers on how to #MakeTravelMatter. After our meaningful collaboration in 2018, I later became TreadRight’s official ‘People’ Ambassador in 2020. Together, we hope to make a difference in the communities we visit, learning from others, and leaving a lasting impression.
Tell us about your favourite pair of moccasins—what’s the meaning behind the design on the vamp?
My favourite pair of moccasins are my very first pair of moccasins. They came with the teaching of walking with the knowledge of my ancestors, following the footsteps of those who have so much truth to share and to care for life in my community. They have a single star on the vamp for my name: Morningstar woman.
You’re also a dancer and a choreographer. How do you feel dancing intersects with sharing Indigenous stories?
I come from an oral history. My people have been using dance, song, and storytelling to preserve who we are for thousands of years. Settlers knew this, so after contact, they banned all forms of storytelling, dance, and ceremony. I use dance to access blood memory, to reclaim those things that were lost, and reframe the narrative of colonial history that was written for us.
Sharing Indigenous stories with travellers helps to safeguard their traditions and protect their cultural heritage. Can you elaborate on why this is so important and how it relates to the TreadRight pledge, “to make travel matter?”
Indigenous people should be the only ones defining our history and sharing our stories. As unique nations, we have different approaches to welcoming visitors and sharing knowledge with them. If we own our narratives, we’re able to preserve our cultures as we need to and for ourselves (not just for cultural and historical consumption). We share in order to connect. That connection has to be mutual and come from a place of respect. Allowing the original peoples of any place to speak from their authentic voice is the only way to stop exploitation and #MakeTravelMatter. TreadRight is committed to encouraging the cultures, traditions, and arts of the communities visited by travellers to thrive, so together, we are able to make the difference the world needs to see.
Where do you plan to travel to next?
I have been travelling deep into the backcountry of my homelands near Lake Superior. Sometimes the things we search for all over the world are in our own backyard. I’ll anxiously await international travel in the future, but enjoy my own territory in the meantime!
The TreadRight Foundation released a short film about the power of conscious travel and storytelling, featuring The Canadian Museum of History on the banks of the Ottawa River, which was originally a place of trade for hundreds of Indigenous Nations.
The film highlights the critical role that Indigenous stories and knowledge play in truly appreciating a place and its people, and features an interview with Roberta Anderson, a Cree elder and moccasin maker who teaches at the Manitobah Mukluks Storyboot School in Toronto.
“It’s who we are, it’s what we represent,”—Roberta Anderson.
To learn more, visit treadright.org.