Supporting Indigenous Creators with the Entrepreneur Growth Program

Project Spotlight: EntrepreNorth’s flagship program that empowers Northern Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs. 

Creating Indigenous Sovereignty Possible Futures Representation Land
Photographs of Elizabeth Arey, Erica Donovan (Lugt) and Dorathy Wright in front of grey backgrounds

Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have been master crafters of handmade designs that blend exceptional function with wearable art. As consumers across the globe are recognizing the environmental impacts of fast fashion and the dangers of cultural appropriation, Indigenous designers are offering unique, sought-after alternatives that hold integrity, meaning and power. It’s clear that there is a growing market for Indigenous-made garments, jewellery and accessories. Through social media and initiatives like Indigenous Fashion Arts, Adäka and Great Northern Arts Festival, Indigenous designers are showcasing and selling their works to large, conscious audiences who are ready to invest and learn. 

The 2020–2021 Circumpolar Fashion Cohort included 12 Northern Indigenous women from across the territories who create authentically made fashion that honours the beauty of their culture and people. In October 2020, the cohort gathered for the first time in Yellowknife, NT, and Whitehorse, YT.

At the end of this gathering, Gwich’in Elder and musician William Greenland joined to offer closing remarks and a touching flute song. He encouraged them all to “walk in beauty.” William used the Diné word Nizohni which translates to “beautiful,” and he explained that walking in beauty encapsulates everything before and in front of us. It is what our ancestors experienced and what they’ve left for us to experience today. As newborns, we commence the journey of walking in beauty; when we first begin to practice our culture and learn our language, we are walking in beauty; when we stand tall and take care of one another, we are walking in beauty; when we move carefully and with intention, we are walking in beauty. This message from William became a central theme of our cohort program as each entrepreneur stepped into her strength and used her creative gifts to inspire positive change through business.

The EntrepreNorth Walk in Beauty video series shares the voices and stories of the women in this cohort. Through their participation in our flagship Entrepreneur Growth Program, they built new business skills and industry connections that elevated the impact of their designs. By uplifting each other and deepening their connection to community and culture, they learned to walk in beauty together. Their purpose-driven stories are a source of inspiration for those pursuing entrepreneurship and bravely weaving together business and Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The Walk in Beauty series captures these stories in uplifting videos made by northern videographers.

A photograph of Dorathy Wright in front of a dark grey background
Dorathy Wright. PHOTO PAT KANE


Dorathy Wright is a Gwich’in quilter and artist from Inuvik, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT,who now calls Norman Wells home. Dorathy comes from a family of artists, though she is mainly self-taught. While she learned traditional beading and embroidery in junior high and high school, Dorathy came to quilting as an adult. With the help of some how-to videos, she picked up the skill quickly. She has since taken classes on specific quilt patterns, including watercolour rails and double pinwheels.

Dorathy’s work, which celebrates colour, line and texture, seeks to captivate the viewer’s spirit and emotions, sparking a sense of mystery, excitement and joy. She aspires to be a contemporary dressmaker and hopes to one day open a craft store to display her textile work and provide materials and designs to the communities of the Sahtú.

With over ten years of experience as a quilter and artist, Dorathy has been selling and donating quilts for more than five years. Recipients of her work include the Norman Wells Land Corporation, Mackenzie Mountain School, the NWT SPCA, the East Three Girls Basketball Team and many local families. Dorathy is committed to supporting, educating and donating to her local community in the hopes that her crafting skills can encourage other young artists to engage in healthy and productive hobbies.

Credit: This video was originally published by EntrepreNorth on July 21, 2021. COURTESY ARTLESS COLLECTIVE

A photograph of Erica Donovan (Lugt) in front of a dark grey background
Erica Donovan (Lugt). PHOTO PAT KANE



Erica Donovan (Lugt) is an Inuvialuk artist from Tuktuyaaqtuuq (Tuktoyaktuk), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT; Daughter to Eric and Tootsie Lugt, granddaughter to Eddie and Alice Gruben. Erica makes jewellery inspired by the land and her Inuvialuit culture, in particular Inuvialuit dancing parkas. “I’ve always been attracted to colour. I bring my love of colour, of all colours and what my eyes interpret from the colours of the Arctic to my creations,” says Erica. She also has a passion and pedigree for fashion; she comes from a long line of well-known Gruben seamstresses. Erica is committed to creating wearable fashion that is at once traditional yet modern. Jewellery and fashion design are more than creative outlets for Erica. They have also been an important part of her healing journey. 

​Erica was a featured vendor at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) in 2018 and sold out at IFWTO 2020. Her earrings were on display at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. Erica assisted with coordinating the 2019 Arctic Fashion Show as part of the Great Northern Arts Festival Society in Inuvik. She is also a member of the Creations for Continuity and Proudly Indigenous Crafts & Design website. More recently, she took part in the 2021 Earring show with BC Craft Council as well as the EntrepreNorth Circumpolar Fashion Cohort.

Credit: This video was originally published by EntrepreNorth on July 20, 2021. COURTESY ARTLESS COLLECTIVE

A photograph of Elizabeth Arey in front of a dark grey background
Elizabeth Arey. PHOTO PAT KANE




Elizabeth Arey is an Inuvialuk artist from the coastal community of Tuktuyaaqtuuq. Elizabeth was taught to bead and sew by her mother who learned from her mother, the well-known Inuvialuk seamstress, Alice Gruben. Elizabeth’s technical skills have also benefitted from working alongside other talented artists. Through Arctic Ocean Mocs, Elizabeth offers clients warm, cozy and stylish slippers with intricately beaded uppers. Made from locally sourced sealskin, fox and beaver, Elizabeth’s moccasins are based on a slipper pattern she inherited from her grandmother. Elizabeth’s beadwork, which features ice, snow and flowers, is inspired by the beauty and bounty of nuna (the land). Her intricate beadwork is constantly evolving and always unique. In addition to creating beautiful moccasins, Elizabeth is also keeping sewing traditions alive in her community by sharing her skills with the younger generation.

Credit: This video was originally published by EntrepreNorth on July 20, 2021 COURTESY ARTLESS COLLECTIVE 

About EntrepreNorth

In 2018, the EntrepreNorth project was launched to empower Northern Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses and livelihoods across the North. They do this by offering a 9-month Entrepreneur Growth Program for 8-12 Northern Indigenous entrepreneurs with early-stage businesses; and by offering community-focused business ideation workshops for young entrepreneurs who have a business idea they want to explore and develop.


This story is part of the Northwest Territories Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.