Design as a Means of Empowerment in Native Communities: Innovative Atikamekw Products Dedicated to the Global Marketplace

By Anne Marchand and Renata Marques Leitao.

Published by The International Journal of Design in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: April 11, 2014 $US5.00

This paper presents the principles and outcomes of an eight-week cycle of creative workshops that joined together designers of Université de Montréal and Atikamekw artisans, in the summer of 2011. Atikamekw is one of Quebec’s First Nations, nicknamed “the people of the bark” because of their skill in crafting birch bark objects. They are also known for their exceptional moose skin work. Presently, Atikamekw artisans face two major challenges: the loss of their cultural identity and the scarce supply of moose skin and birch bark. To address these challenges, the Atikamekw craft cooperative established a partnership with the research group Design & Culture Matérielle. As their first joint action, the creative workshops aimed to design innovative products embodying Atikamekw cultural identity for the global market. The workshops aimed to enhance the participants’ ability to design—by introducing processes of reflection on the meaningful elements of their culture, identification of the necessary resources to make their products, and exploration of new ideas through sketching and modeling—allowing Atikamekw artisans to identify their challenges and to conceive means to address them. This paper underlines how design can be a powerful tool for supporting empowerment in Native communities.

Keywords: Native Crafts, Empowerment, Product Design, Social Innovation

The International Journal of Design in Society, Volume 7, Issue 2, April 2014, pp.87-101. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: April 11, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.359MB)).

Anne Marchand

Assistant Professor, École de Design Industriel, Faculté de l'Aménagement, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Anne Marchand is a product design professor at Université de Montréal. She holds a PhD in environmental design from the University of Calgary (2008). Her research interests include issues related to sustainable consumption, alternative visual and material cultures, and localization in the design and production of goods. She is also conducting action-research projects with First Nation communities in Quebec, Canada, to support cultural, economical and social empowerment through design.

Renata Marques Leitao

Faculté de l’Aménagement, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Renata Marques Leitao is a Ph.D. student at Université de Montréal. She works at the research group “Design et culture matérielle” that studies design as a means of development for native individuals and communities. Currently her research activity is focused on the appreciation and valorization of aboriginal cultures among both native and non-native peoples through the use of graphic design. Leitao holds a M.Sc.A in design & complexity from Université de Montréal.