Vina Brown’s Haíɫzaqvḷa name is ƛ̓áqvas gḷ́w̓aqs, which loosely translates to “Copper Canoe Woman.” The name was given to her by her great grandmother and reflects her birth story. Brown’s father was paddling on a cedar dugout canoe from Bella Bella, Brown’s village, all the way to Vancouver, B.C. when she was born.
“I decided to name my business Copper Canoe Woman because that’s who I am. That’s what roots me,” Brown says.
Copper Canoe Woman is a contemporary, Indigenous jewelry brand based in Lummi. Brown’s designs feature vibrant colors and use locally sourced materials to create modern, coastal inspired pieces. Her focus is primarily earrings; however, she occasionally includes additional items such as chokers and necklaces in her collections.
Brown is also a yoga teacher, a scholar, a cultural artist, and a professor at Northwest Indian College. She describes these different aspects of her life as “interconnected.”
Brown began selling her beadwork long before she launched her website in July 2020. She describes her style as a modern interpretation of form line, which is a cross-culture geometric art form used for depicting stories.
“My business is all about sharing culture from a really authentic and unique place, and also contemporizing our culture to show the world that these cultures aren’t frozen in time. Our cultures aren’t historical; we have history, but they never stopped,” Brown says.
Brown encourages anyone to buy and wear her jewelry and says she hopes her work gives people the opportunity to educate themselves about Indigenous art.
“Our art isn’t just something that we slap on unintentionally. It’s our stories, it’s our history, it’s our governance. It gives us instruction on how to be in the natural world and how to interact with our non-human relatives such as animals and plants.”
Brown also encourages people to understand the importance of buying authentic Indigenous art. She quotes Louie Gong, the founder of Eighth Generation, when she says, “When you buy, buy from an inspired native, not native-inspired.”
Copper Canoe Woman began with just Brown, but she has since grown her team to include students from the Indigenous college and others in her community. Brown believes in giving her team flexibility and supporting them and their families by respecting their time and resources.
“This business is about bringing people together, it’s about inspiring, it’s about empowering, and it’s about helping people,” says Brown.
Brown describes her process as “slow-made” due to the hands-on and individualized way the jewelry is crafted. Each design is cut on an in-house laser and assembled by hand.
Brown also practices mindfulness when sourcing the materials for her jewelry, making sure to use each resource to the best of her ability. She says these sustainable practices are rooted in the value systems of her culture.
“Our people see animals and nature not just as resources that they could take and use, but as a part of the cycle of life that was to be respected and to be acknowledged and was never to be abused. Only take what you need, be generous, share, and be reciprocal,” Brown says.
Her family is also heavily involved with the brand, including her partner and 3-year-old toddler. Brown’s partner is Hopi and together they have collaborated to create Hopi, Southwest-inspired designs.
“This business has been the biggest gift,” Brown says. “It has moved me closer to my culture, closer to my family and my identity, my community.”
Brown’s salmon ghost design is among her favorites. Featuring a long and jointed salmon skeleton, the dangling earrings are representative of the important role salmon and their life cycles play for many cultures on the coast. She also hopes to bring awareness to the negative impacts climate change has on the salmon.
The sun and moon design, or Hupał design, is another of Brown’s treasured pieces. The sun is representative of masculine energy and the moon is feminine. Together the pieces are a contemporary, Indigenous visualization of the balance and fluidity of the gender spectrum.
Brown’s most recent spring release includes pieces made from abalone shells. The shimmering blue material takes the shapes of mountains, waves, and raindrops. Cedar framing complements the abalone, but ivory or black acrylic are additional options that create different looks.
The popular collection of ovoid earrings have also been transformed into many bright, pastel colors for the new season.
“Every design has a story. Every collection has an influence. It’s just been such a joy to do.”
Copper Canoe Woman’s spring launch is just one of many Brown has planned for the year. She hopes to continue to see the brand grow both within her community and beyond.
New designs and jewelry restock can be found on Copper Canoe Woman’s website.
Lummi, 360.483.7234, coppercanoewoman.com