Bringing Inuit Healing Traditions to Skincare

Bringing Inuit Healing Traditions to Skincare
Image Courtesy: Bernice Kuutuu Clarke

In her interview with Indigenous-SME Business Magazine, Bernice Kuutuu Clarke, founder of Uasau Soap Inc., revealed that the company’s inception was rooted in her personal battle with dry skin and the need for effective traditional Inuit healing remedies. This need led Bernice to connect with Meeka Mike, an Inuk woman from Pangnirtung, who shared her family’s traditional soap-making methods. These traditions, coupled with Bernice’s drive to create culturally resonant skincare solutions, laid the foundation for Uasau Soap Inc., transforming it into a business that not only addresses skincare needs but also honors and preserves Inuit healing practices. Bernice’s journey underscores the importance of integrating traditional knowledge into entrepreneurial ventures to create impactful, culturally meaningful products that resonate with the broader community.

Bernice, raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut, immersed herself in her Inuit heritage, speaking Inuktitut fluently before learning English. Married with four children, she founded Uasau Soap Inc. in 2012, specializing in all-natural bath and body products infused with Inuit teachings. Her products, rooted in traditional knowledge, provide relief for various skin conditions in the Arctic and Canada. In 2022, Bernice established Kuutuu Cultural Consulting Inc. to safeguard her mother tongue, Inuktitut, and Inuit customs, ensuring their preservation for future generations. Apart from her entrepreneurial pursuits, Bernice actively collaborates with Indigenous entrepreneurs and recently completed the Indigenous Beauty Bootcamp, earning recognition and a $13,000 CAD grant for her Capstone project. With diplomas in Inuit Studies and Indigenous Language Proficiency, she is an enthusiastic participant in EntrepreNorth, a program empowering Northern Indigenous entrepreneurs. Bernice’s unwavering dedication to preserving her cultural heritage and fostering sustainable businesses underscores her commitment to personal and professional growth.

Can you walk us through the inception of Uasau Soap Inc, and how your initial solution for dry skin evolved into a thriving business committed to incorporating traditional Inuit healing practices? 

“The inception of Uasau Soap Inc. is deeply rooted in both personal necessity and a culturally significant encounter, ultimately blossoming into a thriving business that seamlessly merges traditional Inuit healing practices with modern skincare solutions. Our journey began in 2012 when the harsh Arctic winters exposed me to the persistent and painful issue of dry skin.

Faced with this challenge, I turned to natural remedies, and it was during this search for relief that I encountered a transformative gift from Meeka Mike, an Inuk woman hailing from Pangnirtung. Meeka shared her family’s time-honored practice of crafting soap using ash and Minky whale oil, a tradition passed down through generations. Witnessing the remarkable healing effects of Uasau Soap on my brother’s eczema, Meeka suggested expanding the use of Bowhead oil into a broader range of natural body care products.

Though initially uncertain, I recognized the profound significance of honoring this traditional gift. With trepidation, we began experimenting with incorporating Bowhead oil into our formulations, and to our delight, found that it harmonized seamlessly, dispelling any concerns about separation. This successful integration marked the beginning of our journey towards embracing the healing potential of traditional Inuit practices.

As we evolved, we realized the importance of masking the natural scent of Bowhead oil with essential oils, which not only elevated our products but also allowed us to transcend from a simple natural body care line to a vessel for traditional healing. This transition not only addressed my personal skincare needs but also ignited a broader mission to reclaim and revitalize Inuit healing practices that had been overshadowed by historical injustices, such as overhunting by whalers.

Uasau Soap Inc. stands as a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the Inuit. By embracing our cultural heritage and tapping into the wisdom of our ancestors, we not only offer effective skincare solutions but also provide a pathway to healing that honors tradition, fosters empowerment, and reclaims a vital aspect of Inuit identity. Through our products, we aspire to share the richness of our culture, promote holistic well-being, and contribute to the preservation of our heritage for generations to come.”

Bringing Inuit Healing Traditions to Skincare
Image Courtesy: Uasau Soap

How do you integrate Inuit traditions and healing knowledge into your products, and why do you believe its important to share these aspects of your culture through entrepreneurship? 

“Integrating Inuit traditions and healing knowledge into our products through entrepreneurship holds multifaceted significance beyond mere economic endeavors. At the core, it serves as a powerful vehicle for cultural preservation, education, and fostering cross-cultural understanding, enriching society as a whole.

By infusing our products with Inuit traditions and healing knowledge, we honor the wisdom passed down through generations within our community. Each product becomes a vessel, carrying stories, techniques, and values intrinsic to our culture. This act of preservation is crucial in ensuring that our traditions endure and thrive amidst the currents of modernization.

Moreover, entrepreneurship provides a platform for education. Through our products, we share not only tangible goods but also narratives and insights into our heritage. This educational aspect not only enlightens consumers about Inuit traditions but also instills a sense of respect and appreciation for cultural diversity.

Furthermore, entrepreneurship acts as a bridge for cross-cultural understanding. By showcasing Inuit traditions in the marketplace, we invite individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage with our culture in a meaningful way. This interaction cultivates empathy, breaks down stereotypes, and fosters connections that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

In essence, our commitment to integrating Inuit traditions and healing knowledge into entrepreneurship extends far beyond profit margins. It’s about preserving our identity, educating others, and fostering a more inclusive and empathetic society. Through this endeavor, we believe we contribute not only to the economic prosperity of our community but also to the enrichment of humanity’s collective tapestry of cultures.”

With significant background in Inuktitut language and culture education, both through your academic achievements and teaching roles at Pirurvik Centre Inc., how do your education endeavors complement your business activities? 

“My extensive background in Inuktitut language and culture education, acquired through both academic achievements and teaching roles at Pirurvik Centre Inc., plays a pivotal role in complementing my business activities.

First and foremost, my deep understanding of Inuktitut language and culture informs every aspect of my business endeavors. It allows me to infuse authenticity into the products and services we offer, ensuring that they resonate with the values and traditions of the Inuit community. This authenticity not only enhances the quality of our offerings but also fosters a deeper connection with our target audience.

Moreover, my education endeavors have equipped me with invaluable communication skills and cultural sensitivity, which are essential for building meaningful relationships with customers, suppliers, and collaborators. These skills enable me to navigate cultural nuances effectively, facilitating smoother business transactions and partnerships.

Additionally, my experience in education has honed my ability to convey complex concepts in a clear and engaging manner. This skill is invaluable when developing marketing strategies, creating educational content about our products, and conducting workshops or presentations to promote cultural awareness and appreciation.

Furthermore, my involvement in education has helped me cultivate a strong sense of community and social responsibility. This commitment to community engagement and empowerment is reflected in our business practices, as we strive to create opportunities for local artisans, support cultural initiatives, and contribute to the overall well-being of the Inuit community.

In essence, my education endeavors serve as a solid foundation upon which my business activities are built. They provide me with the knowledge, skills, and perspective necessary to create a business that not only thrives commercially but also embodies the values and aspirations of the Inuit people.”

As a member of the Theatre group Takannaaluk, you play multiple roles in telling an Inuit story that emphasizes the importance of maintaining traditional ways. How does your involvment in theatre and the arts inform your approach to business and advocacy for Indigenous culture and language?

“My involvement in the theatre group Takannaaluk has profoundly shaped my approach to both business and advocacy for Indigenous culture and language. Through playing roles that embody the powerful narratives of our Inuit Culture, such as the story of Takannaaluk, the sea goddess, and the simple yet profound tale of how the Inuit came to be, I have gained invaluable insights into the importance of maintaining traditional ways and the responsibilities we hold as Inuit.

These theatrical experiences have instilled in me a deep sense of stability, confidence, and self-awareness. By delving into the essence of our cultural narratives, I have come to understand more fully who I am as an Inuk Woman and the significance of standing firmly grounded in my Inukness. This newfound understanding has bolstered my pride in my cultural identity and strengthened my resolve to advocate for the preservation and celebration of Indigenous culture and language.

Moreover, my involvement in theatre and the arts has enhanced my ability to communicate complex ideas and emotions effectively. This skill is invaluable in both business and advocacy settings, as it allows me to articulate the importance of Indigenous culture and language with clarity and passion. Whether I’m developing marketing strategies for my business or advocating for policy changes that support Indigenous communities, my experience in theatre informs my approach, infusing my efforts with authenticity and depth.

In essence, my involvement in theatre and the arts has been transformative, providing me with the tools and perspective needed to navigate the worlds of business and advocacy while remaining steadfastly committed to upholding the rich tapestry of Indigenous culture and language.”

Bringing Inuit Healing Traditions to Skincare
Image Courtesy: Uasau Soap

Drawing from your diverse experiences as an entreprenuear, educator, and artist deeply rooted in your Inuk Culture, what advice would you offer to other Indigenous individuals aspiring to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams or artistic passions, especially those looking to make a positive impact on their communities and preserve their culture?

“Drawing from my diverse experiences as an entrepreneur, educator, and artist deeply rooted in my Inuk culture, I would offer the following advice to other Indigenous individuals aspiring to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams or artistic passions, especially those seeking to make a positive impact on their communities and preserve their cultural heritage:

Take up spaces as Inuit and hold them. We are the next in line and must be brave to show other Indigenous and Inuit they can too. Embrace your identity and Culture unapologetically as you navigate the entrepreneurial and artistic landscapes. Your unique perspective and cultural background are assets that set you apart and enrich your endeavors.

We can do business differently using our Indigenous societal values and incorporate them into business where people come first. Let your cultural values guide your business practices, placing emphasis on community, collaboration, and reciprocity. By prioritizing people over profit, you can foster a more inclusive and compassionate business environment.

Culture and language are the very change we need in the business world. Celebrate and integrate your culture and language into your entrepreneurial ventures and artistic pursuits. By preserving and promoting Indigenous languages and traditions, you not only honor your ancestors but also contribute to the cultural revitalization and empowerment of your community.

It would feel a lot less cold and cutthroat. Adding love, compassion, and understanding while doing business helps everyone. Infuse your business dealings with love, compassion, and empathy, fostering genuine connections and mutual respect. By prioritizing relationships and well-being, you create a more nurturing and supportive business ecosystem that benefits everyone involved.

In summary, my advice is to embrace your identity, leverage your cultural values, and prioritize compassion and understanding in your entrepreneurial and artistic endeavors. By doing so, you can not only realize your dreams but also make a meaningful and positive impact on your community while preserving and celebrating your culture”

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