Whether hanging on the wall of a chalet or cutting through the pristine waters of Northern Ontario lakes, Lara Siouï’s traditional first nations designs are striking.
An innate desire to express her heritage coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit made starting her own business an easy decision. “It was just natural that we decided to paint paddles because paddles for us are very symbolic of our ancestors.” Once the community around them noticed their beautiful designs, Onquata Native Paddle was born.
A Family Affair
Starting any business is daunting, but it wasn’t a task Lara took on alone. Her mother, Lise, also possessed that same entrepreneurial passion. “We spent a lot of time in the forest, and it came very naturally because I’m already an entrepreneur, and my mother was a businesswoman.” Between the two of them and the demand of the community around them, they created what would become Onquata Paddles.
As far as origins go, it doesn’t get humbler than creating something in a woodshop to decorate your home or paddle a remote lake. Despite Onquata’s small beginnings, they’ve achieved big things and aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.
In 2019 Onquata was chosen as the image of Quebec National Day, representing both the whole of the province and the traditions of the first nations communities that reside within. “It was big for us. It was Indigenous with Quebecois.” Being chosen to represent the province beyond the First Nations community was an acknowledgement of how fundamental the Indigenous community is to Quebec, and how well Onquata embodies that.
Aside from these accolades, the company is committed to growing. Lara’s designs have expanded beyond paddles to beautiful native leatherwork purses and coat hangers. The company has even partnered with Charest Lofts, a chain of Quebec-based boutique hotels, to decorate their spaces.
Building Up Community
Lara’s commitment to the community and the people that make it up is evident. Through an unyielding desire to bring recognition to the people who pioneered the art she now uses as her medium, she and Onquata are helping to improve the lives of those around them. “I would like to have more Indigenous employees, to perpetuate a positive message for First Nations. I would like to have very good conditions for my artisans and employees.”
Lara’s vision of the future of Onquata both honours and utilizes the timeless artistry and traditions of the past. It’s fitting that, from the origins of paddles she made for herself, Lara has been able to navigate the tumultuous waters of modern business with grace and dignity.
Where to Find Onquata?
Images courtesy of Onquata Native Paddle