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Indigi-X Workshop Series: Building an Indigenous Brand

February 2, 2021

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Merging Creativity with Culture

On February 2, 2021, Animikii’s lead designer Mark Rutledge presented how to build an Indigenous brand to a virtual audience that spanned Canada, New Zealand, and Fiji (and over 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature difference!). The presentation was based on Mark’s original article - “Indigenous Design: Beyond Medicine Wheels, Ox Carts, & Inukshuks” - which explores how, when, and if sacred iconography should be incorporated into graphic design. 

“It always gives me goosebumps when I hear our languages being spoken.” Mark Rutledge

In his talk, Mark touched on 4 different themes:

  • Thinking Twice 
  • Telling Stories
  • Medicine Wheels
  • Pan-Indigeneity

These themes frame the context of Indigenous design, with the caveat that - like all design - Indigenous design is always growing and changing. This is a reflection of Indigenous peoples, who continue to innovate design in Turtle Island and around the world.

Thinking Twice about Using Indigenous Symbols

We must be more careful when using cultural symbols. By using the feather, The infinity symbol, the Inukshuk, Medicine Wheel, or even traditional patterns in everyday life, the meaning and teachings behind these symbols are being diluted and overlooked.

Telling Stories for Authentic Indigenous Branding

A defining trait of any successful brand is its specificity; you should be able to look at a brand and understand who they are and - ideally - what they do. But, how can you explain who you are if you use iconography like the Medicine wheel which represents every aspect of life? The goal is to tell your story, stand apart from competitors, and honour who you are and where you come from.

Using Medicine Wheels in Your Branding is Not a Good Idea

Having a Medicine Wheel in a logo is one example that has become shorthand for “We’re an Indigenous organization.” While showcasing Indigenous leadership and ownership is important, using sacred iconography like the Medicine Wheel is not the only - or even the best - way to share your identity with your clients and partners.

Branding and Pan-Indigeneity; What to Avoid 

To discuss pan-Indigeneity in Indigenous design, we must first be aware of what stereotypical First Nation, Métis and Inuit iconography looks like. This is any design or branding that operates under the base assumption that all Indigenous peoples are - in essence - the same. This is not a discussion on shared values, but rather a discussion on acknowledging the uniqueness of each individual Indigenous person and community.

Additional Resources

Can't get enough Indigenous Design? We’ve got you covered.

  • Indigenous Design: Beyond Medicine Wheels, Ox Carts, & Inukshuks”, Mark’s original blog post that dives deeper into the elements of Indigenous Design.
  • Te Arawa Iwi Trust represents the interests of the three Te Arawa River Iwi located within the Upper Waikato River catchment area in New Zealand. Their mission is to assert Mana whenua, Kaitiakitanga, Ahi Kā and Mana whakahaere to restore the health and well being of the Waikato river, tributaries and environs.

The full recording can be found here: INDIGI-X How to Build an Indigenous Brand: "Beyond Medicine Wheels, Ox Carts and Inukshuks”

February 2, 2021

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