Edmonton International Airport (YEG) has redesigned the consumer experience with its newly created Indigenous Interpretative and Retail Centre. The grand opening of the centre was held Nov. 8.
The project began about eight years ago when management at the facility began brainstorming ways they could include and celebrate Indigenous culture while educating its passengers.
“It’s something that has been in the works here at the airport for quite a long time,” explained Chelsey Quirk, manager of Indigenous and stakeholder relations at YEG. “We spent a lot of time conceptualizing what we wanted, what we thought would be a good idea, where in the terminal it would be and what was the outcome we were looking for.”
To ensure the process was upholding traditions and authenticity, an Elders and Knowledge Keepers Circle was formed. It consisted of individuals from communities within the Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 territories, as well as the Métis Nation of Alberta, Métis Settlements General Council, the Dene Nation, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the Inuit communities in Edmonton.
“We wanted every part of it to have intention, so we talked about different themes we wanted to incorporate and the themes that were important to our Elders and knowledge keepers,” Quirk said.
The project was partially funded by the Canadian Experiences Fund with a $400,000 grant and was constructed by Reimagine Architects, including Métis architect Tiffany Shaw.
Indigenous Box, a local corporate retail outlet, was hired as the official retailer for the space. The company is well known for extensive work with Indigenous artisans from across North America.
“It's an opportunity for us to continue to create sales channels for Indigenous businesses where people can actually buy from Indigenous artisans and Indigenous people making and creating their own brands and their own businesses to support their own families in our own community,” said Mallory Yawnghwe, founder and CEO of Indigenous Box.
Indigenous Box collaborates with artisans from across North America to promote individuals and already established businesses by providing a unique outlet for them to sell their items to buyers around the world.
The list of items available for purchase at YEG includes everything from teas, soaps, coffee cups, and paintings, to beaded bags, seal skin poppies and high-end jewellery.
The artists featured in the space come from communities within the Edmonton area, as well as from northern Canada.
“We tried to bring a lot of northern partners on just because Edmonton International Airport is one of the closest to the north and services the north. So, we do have some seal skin items in there,” said Yawnghwe. “We always work in collaboration with Indigenous arts and Indigenous businesses and artisans from all across North America so it was just selecting the ones that we thought could really benefit from this space and, of course, our northern partners were first on our list, including our Treaty 6 partners.”
Another unique aspect about the centre is the way passengers purchase the items.
All items are placed within cabinets or drawers and are accompanied by a QR Code. When the QR code is scanned on a consumer’s phone they are automatically brought to an online site where the item can be purchased and shipped, either to their home or another recipient’s address.
Yawnghwe said by providing this type of shopping experience it allowed for a more diverse list of items to be sold by not having to work within the parameters of the typical clearances for passenger carry-ons.
Individuals can also view and purchase items available at YEG online.
QR codes will also be used within the space to link passengers to stories about the history of Indigenous people and their cultures.
“When you arrive someplace it’s important to understand the culture and people … With the millions of passengers that come here every year, I think it’s part of our duty to tell that story,” sad Quirk.
Located at departure Gate 64, Quirk said the centre will continue to evolve and change as the facility continues to engage in conversations with individuals who would like to contribute, either with sharing stories, music or history.
“We look at this space as an opportunity to shift that a little bit and add to the program we have,” she said. “As we meet people, we will bring people in to actually showcase their skill or talent or their culture for passengers to enjoy and learn. We really see this, the opening, as a stage one to creating a much bigger platform.”