Queen's students create masks that support Indigenous artists and students

Two Inuit students from Queen’s University have created a line of face masks that supports Indigenous artists and helps fellow Indigenous students attend university and achieve their dreams.

Twin sisters Amira and Nadya Gill started Kanata Trade Co. in November.

Amira graduated with a master's degree in civil engineering this year, while Nadya is entering her final year studying law.

The sisters, who are originally from Toronto, say they wanted to give back to Indspire, a charity that provides scholarships to Indigenous people across the country, helping them attend University and College.

The sisters have used the program themselves, and say now is the time to give back.

“I was at Queen's for six years, four during my undergrad, two doing my master's. Upon reflection, I was thinking about the people who made that possible,” said Amira. “The friends that I made, the journeys I did throughout those six years. And one of the biggest ideas that came to my mind was ‘how was it even possible to do this?’ And Indspire was a name that popped into my head.”

Nadya said they were inspired by stories of other people donating their time and efforts during the pandemic.

“Everybody's trying to advance our health care system and trying to do things to make sure that we get through this. And we thought, ‘Okay, let's give back,’” said Nadya. “Let's do it in a way that's kind of on our own terms and give back to people who have helped us.”

So, Kanata Trade Co. was born. The girls commission Indigenous artists from across the country and use their artwork on masks, journals and cards.

So far, they’ve sold and donated 3,000 masks and raised about $6,000 for Indspire, with more expected to be donated in the coming weeks and months.

There are more than a dozen different designs on their website. That includes a new mask added for National Indigenous History Month; it has a red hand in honour of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

On the back of each mask is the artist's description of the art and the meaning behind it. The artists also get commission from the masks.

“Some are more vibrant, some are a bit more earthbound,” said Amira. “Their work is absolutely stunning and beautiful, and they deserve recognition that.”

Nadya said the discovery of the graves of 215 children last month at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. underlines the need to support the careers and future education of those in the community.

“The motivation behind this is extremely geared towards just helping Indigenous people receive a post-secondary education so that they can grow and they can make the changes that they see fit to make because, you know, it's they've been held back for so long,” she says. “So it's extremely focused towards helping people, helping indigenous people grow and be who they are and who they deserve to be after everything that they've had to go through.”

Amira said it’s about supporting Indspire, and those in their community, for as long as they can.

“It's more rewarding knowing that I'm helping someone else meet their goals and dreams so that they're able to have a better life that they always wanted or dreamed of,” she said.