Yassine Touati attended our March 2022 workshop and expressed his appreciation for the knowledge we were able to provide him in the pursuit of fur excellence. This is his story:

Fur Canada,

My interest in fur grew exponentially since my arrival to Canada about 18 months ago. I learned about the FurCanada workshop on the website “The Truth About Fur” at the occasion of my participation at the Canadian Fur Council Design Competition for which I was a finalist (I was lately able to attend their amazing Fur workshop which was delayed because of Covid). I was very eager to learn more about fur and working with it as soon as possible. Consequently, I reached out and I got to communicate directly with Calvin who was approachable and welcoming. I kept following the updates and as soon as I got the chance to come to Nanaimo for the workshop, I rushed to book my trip from Montréal to the Canada’s West Coast to attend two Fur design workshop sessions after saving for several months to be able to afford it. Following the footsteps of Canadian Explorers, in pursuit of furs, I embarked on this exciting journey to discover a new territory/part of Canada, the stunning nature and the rich cultural heritage. After a long Montreal winter, I was striving to learn new skills and fuel my inspiration and creativity.

At FurCanada, the charismatic Panos supervised and directed the workshop. He is a very knowledgeable teacher/instructor who I had the pleasure to get to know and connect with him partially due to Mediterranean shared culture and around the passion for fur. Every morning, Panos gathered the participants to discuss our questions and warm up the session. On the other side, Calvin played the role of maestro coordinating all aspects of the workshop. Even though, he was in the background, I got the chance to discuss with him and listen to his stories, his entrepreneurial vision, and his experience in the realm of Taxidermy and fur trapping which goes along with his passion to preserve traditions and trades fundamental to Canadian identity and embedded in its history as a nation. The workshop was an amazing experience where Panos brought his expertise from Kastoria, the Greek fur Capital, from the Old World to the New World all the way to the Pacific coast of Canada. Panos introduced his approach and demonstrated the fundamentals of that every furrier must master. He taught us how to examine the anatomy of skins/pelts while considering the individuality of each animal. We learned how to recognize and determine the features as well as any visible defects, scars… This observational step is crucial to making the necessary corrections using well defined classical techniques. We spent a considerable amount of time blocking several skins of different sizes such as Canadian sable, Fox, and Canadian beaver. I realized the importance of blocking and shaping the skin to define the dimensions required to fit our patterns/designs. As a leather designer working with leather, these techniques were a revelation and new knowledge. A pelt is more shapable and allows the furrier and fur designer more flexibility than leather. On the other hand, the animal skin in its natural format and color must be considered as an individual and therefore assembling skins from the same animal specie should involve another set of skills and the expertise related to colour grading (another technique Panos was eager for us to practice extensively).

During the workshop, I was able to meet and interact with other students each from a different walk of life. We all shared our knowledge and a common passion for fur. The classroom environment encouraged interactions, open discussions, and lot of questions, all in a general atmosphere of hospitality and generosity. Panos was generous with all the information he shared and motivating us to ask the most questions. I personally enjoyed learning the techniques of blocking and stretching the skins which involved dexterity and manual skills. Working with my hands and touching the materials was a great source of satisfaction.

I am very happy that I was able to meet and learn from both Calvin and Panos. It is a pleasure for me to be part of this community and to do my best as a designer to promote fur designs and contribute to it through my personal vision. My dream is to see the Canadian fur industry once again thriving and celebrating tradition, innovation, technology, and excellence as a gratitude for the wealth of natural resources and a connecting point with the cultural heritage of Canada’s first nations.

What happens when you put a Greek Master Furrier in a room full of Northern Indigenous Women? There’s going to be learning, laughter, a little bit of teasing and an even deeper appreciation for fur.

In February 2022, NWT Arts sponsored a 6-day intensive fur seminar in Inuvik, Northwest Territories for Indigenous Artists, Designers and Seamstresses who work primarily with fur, via Industry Tourism and Investment, a department of the Government of the Northwest Territories.  I was fortunate to get a spot in this course which was right in line with my work as a modern Inuvialuk Artist and Fashion Designer.  Many of us were from outlying communities who travelled to Inuvik to attend the program, and others had to take time from work and family to attend, such is our dedication to excellence, willingness to learn from a master furrier and improve our traditional and contemporary fur skills.

The master furrier I speak about is none other than Pangiotis Pangiotidis.  He is a Greek who spent his life since a young age working in the European fur business, learning from master furriers and becoming a master at his craft.   He told us that Canada has never produced a female furrier, nor do we have any professional full time furrier training programs, which is surprising considering that modern day Canada as many know it was built on the fur trade and our furs are the best quality in the world.  Panos had his own successful fur business in Greece but decided to move to Canada to pursue teaching opportunities with Fur Canada based in Nanaimo, BC.  Here he teaches intensive seminars in fur construction.

Among the attendees, there were Inuvialuit (Inuit), Gwich’in (Dene) and Metis, all Indigenous to the Northwest Territories, Canada’s Western Arctic. For those of us fortunate to attend, many have day jobs and create traditional clothing, garments and fur accessories in their spare time, selling within our communities and online. Some of us own our own Art & Design businesses. We all appreciate the value of fur, hides, pelts, leather and how important and necessary it is in a cultural context to create and do what we do.  Some of us are re-learning what our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew having been taught by their mothers and grandmothers until the Canadian Government’s Residential School system imposed by Catholic and Anglican Missionaries disrupted our way of life causing irreversible damage to our people, culture, knowledge transfer systems, community and family structures.  All of which we are still working to heal to this day.  Part of that healing is reclaiming our traditional sewing skills, arts and crafts, using what we retained of our traditional knowledge and incorporating contemporary practices and techniques.

The value of fur and its practical uses are so very important for many reasons.  The main one being for survival in harsh Arctic conditions – which Indigenous People knew that in order to survive it was absolutely necessary to use what was available in our natural environment to create functional, warm, sustainable, biodegradable clothing.  Fashion was never the priority; however, looking back on some of the first photos of Inuvialuit and Gwich’in, I see the skill and pride in their work, creating functional garments that were also incredibly beautiful, told a story of belonging, showed the skill and love of the seamstress, ability and wealth of the hunter to provide beautiful furs.  Our dramatic amaruq sunburst fur ruffs made of Arctic wolf and wolverine have been scientifically proven to be the best design to divert cold arctic air and keep your face warm in extreme cold conditions, far superior to any man-made faux furs. Wolverine is valued for its characteristic fur trait in that condensed ice buildup from your breath can simply be brushed off without compromising the fur’s ability to insulate. And far from the mislabelled ‘clubbing cute baby seals’ identity promoted by animal rights activists, we do not actually club baby seals to death.  While there is no way around killing an animal, a good hunter ensures it’s done efficiently and quickly so the animal will not suffer unnecessarily. We understand, appreciate and humbly respect that an animal gives it life so we may live. We use most if not all parts of the animal, and anything not used is put back into the land and water to decompose putting nutrients back into the nature.  We do  not to take more than we need, only what’s necessary for survival and subsistence hunting, thus creating a sustainable cycle, not an exploitative, finite one.

My great naanak Taalrumiq (English name Mary Gruben) was one of the first Inuvialuit to marry a European Fur Trader, a Swiss-German Hudson’s Bay employee named John Gruben.  She and the Inuvialuit Arnait (Women) of her generation went from creating full fur and skin garments in the traditional ways of our ancestors using caribou sinew and bone needles to adapting to using materials available with the advance of the fur trade like cotton, polyester and wool fabrics, nylon thread and metal needles.  They incorporated techniques and more modest styles introduced by the nuns, thus creating a new tradition – long, flowy, demure calico print & duffle garments with fur trim and embroidered melton wool mukluks as opposed to the traditional shorter length, fitted and shapely atigi parkas, knee & thigh high fur mukluks with seal or walrus soles of times past. My Jijuu (Gwich’in grandmother) was also known for her intricate beadwork and sewing skills. Many of the traditional and contemporary clothing styles, materials and values are intertwined in both cultures as we were neighbors, friends, enemies and family.

Here I am a few generations later, with the same traditional knowledge, skills and talent in my blood memory inherited from my long, matrilineal line of Inuit Women, my Gwich’in grandmother and her bloodline. These ancient skills and natural talent combined with my contemporary studies and training in hairstyling, fashion, fine art and education allow me to create luxury, Inuvialuit couture garments, accessories, adornment, artwork and cultural education under my own fashion label and business Taalrumiq.  Taalrumiq is my traditional Inuvialuit name, named after my great-Naanak in the customary Inuvialuit way by local elders in my community when I was a baby.  It took me my whole life to accept, reclaim and love my Inuvialuit name. The Canadian Government dehumanized us, taking away our Inuit names replacing them with letters and numbers on leather discs worn around our necks like dog tags, in addition to being assigned random English names and birthdates.  My Mother was ‘W.3-1241.’  W for the Western arctic, area 3 and the 1241st Inuvialuk to be registered.  Despite this, many Inuvialuit have both English and traditional names, and though our traditional names may not be on ‘official’ government documents and identification, they are still valid and true names that carry meaning, acknowledge our ancestral lineage and strengthen our Indigenous identity. This part of our history is important to remember, not only for us but for all Canadians. This is part of why my label is called Taalrumiq.  We also believe that you take on personality traits and characteristics of your atiq (namesake) and having touched and seen some of my atiq’s traditional skin and fur sewing and preferences for bright, bold accent colours, I believe this is true!

When we work with fur, the scent, feel, process and completed products are a sense of nostalgia, pride, satisfaction and love.  Nostalgia as many of us have memories sitting and sewing with our mothers, grandmothers, elders and women in our community. Pride and satisfaction in a beautiful product made by our own hands, complete with nicks from the needle and marks from pleating the fur and hide and pulling the thread taut. Love because in our culture, to sew for someone is to love them.  You want them to be warm and comfortable in traditionally made custom fit garments, mittens, mukluks and hats. And there is something to be said about wearing traditional clothes that makes you stand taller and prouder. Many of us think fondly of a piece of traditional clothing or accessory made specifically for us by a loved one, made to be comfy and warm, literally wrapped in love.  This is the same way we sew today.

In exchange for Panos sharing industry knowledge and techniques, we shared traditional knowledge, our cultural experiences of life in the Arctic and of course some teasing.  We always tease when we like someone!  We tried to convince Panos to move north (Move to Inuvik! Your wife and daughters will love it!) as we appreciate and respect his willingness to share his expertise.  As a group, we could not get over the immutable fact that what we consider a valuable part of beaver fur (spine) for moccasin or mitten trim because of its ability to withstand wear and tear, was to Panos an unattractive part and avoided in his work!

As the week went on, we learned that Canada has never produced a female furrier according to industry standards; however, we all know women in our communities who hunt, trap, process their own furs and are excellent seamstresses.  In fact, one of the attendees was none other than Eleanor Elias, a well known and respected expert trapper, huntress and seamstress. A role model we all looked up to who was did amazing things during her time living out on the land.  We also heard from Panos that Canada has the world’s best quality furs. This we agree on as we know from experience that our high quality furs allowed our ancestors to survive and help visitors to our lands survive, and sparked the fur trade upon which Canada was built.

So, where do we go from here?  In the current decline of the fur industry due to factors such as animal rights activism against fur, lower demand for fur products and laws that prevent exporting certain fur types, what is the future of the fur industry? As Indigenous people we are in a unique position to participate in, support, educate and promote and benefit economically from fur and the fur industry.  What can this look like?  Perhaps investing in a professional furrier training program in Canada?  Agreements and partnerships with various Indigenous groups to have fur cooperatives and offer contemporary fur garment construction programs? Remove restrictions on fur trade across international borders?  Have animal rights activists visit Tuktuuyaqtuuq in -50°C (-58° F) winters with extreme windchill so they truly appreciate the value and necessity of fur and stop vilifying fur providers and consumers? 

While I don’t know the future of the global fur industry, I do understand the importance of fur to our people and communities. I have spent a significant amount of time creating compelling digital content in short format videos to educate and demonstrate the practicality of fur in real life situations and its importance in my culture.  I know that Inuvialuit, Gwich’in and other Indigenous people have used and relied upon fur and fur products since time immemorial.  We will continue to do so in order to practice our culture, traditions and out of absolute necessity.  We are also a modern people with a right to participate in the global economy and offer a variety of contemporary fur products and clothing. 

As a consumer you can support the fur industry by purchasing Indigenous made and designed fur products, follow Fur Canada social media and truthaboutfur.com blogs to learn more about the fur industry and standards. Follow and learn from various Indigenous Artists, Designers and Nations, many of whom are on various social media platforms.  When you purchase fur garments and accessories you are purchasing slow fashion, high quality heirloom pieces that will last for generations. Fur pieces that are sustainable, biodegradable, warm, luxurious and much better for the environment than faux fur. Proudly wear your furs!  

Taalrumiq Christina King Find me on tiktok, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, YT, LinkedIn @taalrumiq

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment’s NWT Arts Program held the 3rd annual Sealebration Workshop from February 28-March 1, 2022 in Inuvik, NT. This workshop was open to Indigenous artists, registered in the NWT Arts Program, who work with seal. There was no cost to participate, and all materials and supplies were provided to the artists.

Eight Indigenous artists from three communities (Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Yellowknife) took part in this five-day workshop. Participants included:

Elizabeth Arey, Tuktoyaktuk
Cathy Cockney, Inuvik
Taalrumiq Christina King, Tuktoyaktuk
Inuk Trennert, Yellowknife
Eliza Firth, Inuvik
Eliana Joe, Inuvik
Eleanor Elias, Inuvik
Peggy Day, Inuvik

The workshop was held at the Midnight Sun Recreating Complex and was instructed by Master furrier, Panagiotis (Panos) Panagiotidis, from Fur Canada. Panos has taught at the Fur School of Kastoria in Greece and has three decades of experience in the fur trade, in Europe and now in Canada. The workshop curriculum focused on skin grading, blocking, pattern design, and using a fur sewing machine and an industrial sewing machine.

NWT Arts also presented their eight workshop video series NWT Arts Workshop Series: Selling Your Art. This workshop series was developed to help NWT Artists to learn about the different ways that are available to sell their artwork. Participants learned about pricing artwork, the importance of creating an artist portfolio, marketing, and how to sell their artwork.

An industrial sewing machine and a fur sewing machine were purchased using the project budget. These two machines, as well as the tools below were gifted to the Town of Inuvik. They will be housed in the new facility currently under construction in Chief Jim Koe Park, the Inuvik Welcome Centre. The Inuvik Welcome Centre will be a combination space of both a covered, but open-air wood & beam promenade adjacent to an enclosed visitor reception building that is set to have visual and digital displays for visitor and residents. Also included in this space is a small multi-purpose community room to be used for workshops, meetings, and presentations. These two machines will become part of the offering to community residents, artists and crafters to use, access, and demonstrate throughout the year.

The Town of Inuvik received:
• Techew fur sewing machine
• Jukki industrial sewing machine
• French curve ruler
• Metallic ruler in inuvik –
• Dress Making shears
• Chalk x 3 black, grey, red
• Tracer
• Fur comb
• Blocking plyer
• Round staple remover
• Variety of needles/threads
• Jacquard fabrics

Each participant received a sewing kit that contained:
• French curve ruler
• Metallic ruler
• Dress Making shears
• Furrier knife w blades
• Professional grade needles for hand sewing
• Chalk x3 black, grey, red
• Tracer
• Fur comb

NWT Arts was also able to donate a sewing kit to the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation (TCC) who has a fur sewing machine for artists in the community to use.

At the end of the workshop, each participant filled out an NWT Arts Workshop Survey. The feedback was incredibly positive. The only negative comments were that the workshop wasn’t long enough and that it went by too quickly.

Participant feedback from Taalrumiq Christina King:
“It was wonderful, educational, and life-changing in regards to my work. I learned so much that I look forward to putting into practice.”

Canada’s First Nations have been harvesting fur for 4,000 years. Artwork: Tom Sewid.

A fresh opportunity is coming soon for future designers to receive a holistic education on working with fur, against a backdrop of its cultural and historical importance to British Columbia’s Indigenous First Nations.

The Learning Hub of Education and Design School will be held in Alert Bay on the ‘Namgis Indigenous First Nations Traditional Territory of Vancouver Island. It’s a product of a partnership among BC’s First Nations, Pacific Balance Marine Management Inc., and Nanaimo-based FurCanada. The ultimate aim of this partnership is to re-establish sealing and the fur trade as an important player in the economy of BC, where commercial sealing ended in the early 1970s. The Learning Hub executive would like to thank the ‘Namgis First Nations for sponsoring this program.

Pacific Balance Marine Management Inc. is a First Nations group pushing for a license to sell pinniped products, including furs, human and pet food, and seal oil. FurCanada, which will organise the Learning Hub, is a fur manufacturing company in Nanaimo specialising in luxurious home décor, including blankets, pillows, floor coverings, garments, furniture and accessories. It is also known for its museum-quality taxidermy mounts.

FurCanada CEO and president Calvin Kania had hoped to welcome the inaugural batch of students this March, but Covid-19 has pushed the launch back to at least November. Once the green light is given to proceed, 25 students will engage in 10 days of intensive study, with all materials, tools, machinery, accommodation, meals, transportation, field trips and instructors covered by a nominal fee of $500 per head. Prior experience will not be a factor in the selection process, but prospective participants must demonstrate a genuine interest in learning about fur, including its history.

[ Read More ]

“Harvesting and trading fur and other gifts of nature is our inherent right since ancient times, not a privilege to be bartered or revoked!”

As Indigenous trappers and traditional trapline holders, we can no longer remain silent about self-appointed “animal rights” activists who think they have a right to spread lies about the fur trade and call on politicians to ban the production or sale of fur products.

The latest example of this vicious and misleading campaigning is a recent call by animal activists for the Canadian Government to ban mink farming, after mink on two BC farms tested positive for COVID-19.  While mink farming is not a tradition in our culture, we oppose this attack on small family-run farms and on rural communities where the majority of Indigenous harvesters live.  And we are not naïve: we understand that this attack on mink farming is just the latest weapon in an orchestrated plan to turn the public against any use of fur – a campaign that directly attacks our culture and inherent rights as Indigenous First Nations peoples of Canada. We call this for what it is: Cultural Genocide.

The fur trade played a central role in Canada’s history, it’s the most important part of our Cultural Identity; our people were harvesting and trading furs long before Europeans ever set foot on our eastern shores. The harvesting and sale of fur still provides income for many First Nations communities throughout Canada. Beavers, muskrats, and other furbearing animals also provide nutritious food for many hunters and their families. The respectful harvesting of fur and food from abundant wildlife populations is central to our relationship with the land – a relationship that the federal and provincial governments are legally mandated to protect.

Let us be crystal clear: the goal of animal activists – including those now calling for a ban on mink farming –is to destroy all markets for fur, to further their own ideological agenda. In doing so, they are directly attacking our right to responsibly harvest and trade nature’s gifts, which is our inherent right, a right recognized by Supreme Court of Canada and by the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

It is doubly unfortunate that animal activists seek to mislead the public and the government about fur at a time when Canadians seek to live in better harmony with nature.  Furs are sustainably produced, long-lasting, and biodegradable, natural clothing material. It is the Honest Fabric.  By contrast, the fake furs and other synthetics promoted by animal activists are generally made from petroleum, a non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and polluting resource.

Indigenous people have respected and protected the survival of the animal populations upon which we depend since time immemorial. Our message today to self-appointed “animal rights” extremists and their celebrity cheerleaders is this: Your misguided attacks on the fur trade are not “progressive”; they are attacks on indigenous people. Your uninformed and misguided truths must stop NOW! 

We take this opportunity to remind the Government of Canada, and their provincial and municipal counterparts, that fur trapping, trading, displaying and selling fur is our Inherent Right, not a privilege to be bartered or trifled with. You are responsible for protecting these rights!

Furthermore, you cannot make any changes in policy or legislation concerning the responsible harvesting, production, displaying, selling or bartering fur products without full consultation and consent from Indigenous people, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.

We will no longer remain silent while self-appointed urban activists attack our cultural traditions and livelihoods.  It is time you showed some respect for Indigenous fur harvesters and our fur trade partners.

We call on all Canadians to say “No!” to the lies and cultural discrimination and “No” to Intolerance from the anti-fur groups.  It’s time to take a stand.   Fur trappers of the Coast Salish, Haida, Cree, Metis, Dene, Inuit to name a few, come from Indigenous Communities across Canada.

We ask Canadians to support Indigenous fur trappers / harvesters by buying and wearing Canadian Fur. 

Thank you.

Signed by Indigenous Fur Trappers & Supporters.

– Chief Roy Jones – Haida Gwaii First Nations

  Tel: 778 840 7897  Email: cheexial@gmail.com

– Chief Brian Wadhams – Trapper Namgis First Nations

   Tel: 250 974 4904 Email: brianwadhams@hotmail.com

– Karen Dunstan – Lytton First Nation Member, Trapper & Director, BC Trappers Assoc.

  Email: karen.m.dunstan@gmail.com

– Thomas Sewid Kwakwaka’wakw/Cree Pacific Balance Marine Management   

Email: tom.sewid@gmail.com