© Photo by Zach Hamel
By Raye Mocioiu
Between balancing graduate studies and staying safe amid a global health crisis, two Inuit sisters started a pandemic project that has made an incredible impact.
Originally called Kanata Face Masks, Kanata Trade Co. was started in late November 2020 by twin sisters Amira and Nadya Gill, both of whom attend Queens University.
As the two sisters are nearing the end of their studies, they want to give back to the charity that made their studies possible: Indspire, an Indigenous national charity that works to remove barriers preventing Indigenous students from attending college or university.
“I was in my last year of my M.A.Sc. Degree and had already completed all course requirements,” Amira shares. “Nadya and I got together and started reminiscing about everything we had done and how we had gotten to where we were.
During our conversations, we decided that Indspire was a huge part of our success. We started brainstorming ways to give back to them and pay it forward.”
The sisters have a simple idea: buying a mask helps everyone by keeping you and others around you safe—and when you choose to purchase a mask from Kanata Trade Co., your purchase also helps support Indigenous communities.
“Our work with Indspire began when we were awarded scholarships/bursaries to financially aid us in completing our post-secondary schooling. We chose Indspire as, without them, we would not have had such a fulfilling post-secondary experience,” Amira continues.
Indspire invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people for the long-term benefit of these individuals, their families and communities, and Canada. In 2020, Indspire granted more than 5,100 scholarships worth $17.8 million to Indigenous students across Canada.
“While we were brainstorming how we wanted to give back to Indspire, the theme to support Indigenous artists appeared,” shares Nadya. “Due to being in the midst of the pandemic, we thought face masks would be the logical item to try and sell, and decided all profits would go to Indspire to help other Indigenous students have a chance at post-secondary education.”
Kanata Trade Co.’s collection of masks feature beautiful artwork from Indigenous artists across Canada, and these artists receive royalties every time a mask is purchased.
“We wanted our masks to be unique and to support as many individuals as possible, so we decided to find a supplier who supports and gives royalties to Indigenous artists. We wanted our business to fully support and promote the beautiful work of Indigenous artists, and help them expand and share the history behind their work,” the sisters added.
This cause is especially significant as the art sector makes slow progress toward recovery after the pandemic shuttered galleries across the country. Kanata Trade Co.’s collection of products can promote artists and their work while making a difference for Indigenous students and their futures—it’s a cycle of positivity.
When Amira and Nadya reached out to Indspire to share their idea, the organization expressed their gratitude and support, even featuring the burgeoning business in their newsletter.
As word gets out about Kanata Trade Co. and how it works to secure the futures of Indigenous students, the twins have expanded their line of products.
“We started adding journals, art cards, patches, t-shirts, and pins to support many different issues that arise in the Indigenous community such as MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) and residential school awareness. We also hope that Kanata Trade Co. can raise awareness for the work Indspire does and the support they provide to Indigenous students.”
So far, the Gill sisters have donated over $6,000 to Indspire, a first milestone on a journey of advocacy that they plan to continue long after graduation.