Discovering Indigenous Culture Through Crafts and Stories

Marc Forgette, founder of Makatew Workshops, uses Indigenous crafting sessions at meetings and events to help participants focus on the story he shares about his Indigenous heritage.

Author: Casey Gale       

medicine bag kits with leather strings

At Makatew Workshops, participants assemble medicine bags that come with pre-cut stitch holes, made from locally sourced white-tail deer leather, hand-beaded by an Indigenous maker.

In 2019, Marc Forgette found himself at a crossroads. He recently had dealt with a life-threatening health crisis and, after five years working at Tourism London, had left his business development position after his contract ended.

Marc Forgette

Marc Forgette

“I had some thinking to do,” Forgette told Convene. “What did I want to do next? Did I want to jump back into another sales role in our industry?” The answer was no, he said, but he didn’t want to completely leave the industry he “loved so much,” filled with people he enjoyed working with, either.

At the many trade shows he had participated in throughout his career, Forgette — a French Algonquin member of the Apitipi Anicinapek Nation in northeastern Ontario, Canada — noticed a significant lack of Indigenous representation and presence. He felt like he had something to offer that would fill this gap. “I said, if I can create some type of workshop where people can do something, and still learn about our culture in a safe space, about truth and reconciliation, about cultural appreciation instead of cultural appropriation,” he said, “maybe I’m onto something.”

In June 2019, Forgette launched Makatew Workshops, with a facility in Carp, Ontario, Canada, where groups of up to 30 people can participate in hands-on activities, such as moccasin-, mitten-, and dreamcatcher-making. Makatew also sells items such as charcuterie boards cut from fallen maple trees with laser-sketched logos or messages, and blankets in a variety of traditional designs that also can be branded. In Carp, the door is “always open,” he said. It’s not a typical retail store because it welcomes people who come wanting to learn more about Indigenous culture.

“This is a safe space, so no matter how difficult a question, if you think you’re going to offend me, you’re not,” Forgette said.

Making Meaning

In addition to hosting these workshops in Carp, Forgette brings them — and Indigenous education — to other places, from grade-school and university classrooms to event venues hosting corporate and association meetings and trade shows. Typical workshops, Forgette said, last around 90 minutes, and can cater to groups of all sizes. Medicine bags, the first item Makatew Workshops introduced, remain the most popular craft to this day, with more than 15,000 sold in the last five years. During the workshop, participants are not taught how to sew leather for the bags but rather assemble kits that come with pre-cut stitch holes, made from locally sourced white-tail deer leather, hand-beaded by an Indigenous maker. Making the craft from scratch isn’t the objective, Forgette said. “I want them to be focused on the message.”

medicine bags arranged next to feathers

While participants work on the kits, “they’re focused on me, and don’t care about their phones,” said Marc Forgette, who speaks about the “beautiful culture” and challenges of Indigenous peoples.

While participants are working, he shares stories about Indigenous culture, including difficult-to-talk-about history, like residential schools, which housed abducted Indigenous children who were often abused for displaying anything related to their culture — and how Forgette’s own family endured the harm that came from that experience. The kits, he said, give attendees something to do with their hands, which makes it easier for them to focus on his story without other distractions.

“By the time they’re done with their medicine bag, which may be 30 or 40 minutes later, they’re focused on the message that we’re delivering,” he said. “They’re focused on me, and don’t care about their phones. As long as people have something in their hands, they’re happy.”

Growing Appreciation

Makatew Workshops opened roughly nine months before the pandemic hit, and Forgette said he has noticed a difference in how people feel about handmade arts in general since then.

“I think people have realized that they need to start supporting their local economy,” he said. “So, they’re going back to things that are crafty, because first of all, they’re more meaningful — they know where it comes from, because it comes with a story.” Whether that means going to a craft fair or working with a local crafter, Forgette said, consumers have the opportunity to ask how the crafter became interested in their art and what it means to them. “It’s a lot more meaningful,” he said, “to have a story than just, ‘Oh, yeah, I got it off Amazon.’”

In addition to people’s desire to contribute to local economies and support local makers, Forgette attributes something more specific to an increased interest in Indigenous peoples and culture in Canada: the troubling discovery in 2021 of 215 unmarked graves at former residential schools.

That has sparked a greater appreciation for “our beautiful culture,” Forgette said, and the desire to learn more about calls to action. “We’ve gotten a lot busier because of that. The fact that we have a component where they get to make something tangible and keep it is a bonus.”

Casey Gale is managing editor of Convene.


Learn more about Makatew Workshops at


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