Bar None

Of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, Nunavut is the biggest. It covers 2 million square kilometres, contains thousands of islands, and is the homeland of the Inuit.

In Inuktitut, Nunavut means 'our land' and invokes a sense of interconnectedness between the Inuit and the animals and plants of the tundra.

If you were to package up the essence of this huge arctic wonderland, it would end up looking a lot like a bar of Uasau Soap.

"It is Nunavut in a bar," owner Bernice Clarke says. Everything from the packaging and the artistic design of the soap to the ingredients contained within is meant to evoke that sense of place.

Based in the territorial capital of Iqaluit, on Baffin Island, Uasau Soap is run by dynamic husband and wife team Bernice and Justin Clarke.

"We've been dubbed a power couple," Bernice tells me with a chuckle. "He really grounds me."

For all of its current success, Uasau had humble beginnings: Bernice attempted to recreate a "bougie" all-natural whipped body butter her cousin purchased because it was so expensive to ship it to Iqaluit.

She gave some to family and friends and everyone loved it. Bernice began selling it at craft markets and had such a great response from people that she started making more. Her focus was always on all-natural ingredients sourced from her homeland.

"We have really poor choices here in Nunavut," she said. "I wanted to give people a really good product for a good price. I'll take less profit so other people can afford it."

The business grew first through word of mouth and then the Clarkes started to win entrepreneurship awards and a wider recognition of their products.

Today, Uasau (pronounced ooh-ah-sow) has a line of bars, body butters, balms, salves, and natural body and hair care products.

At the base of each product is traditional Inuit knowledge of ingredients, medicine, and community.

Bernice says her business has been helped immensely by contributions from her friends and family. From community members dropping off ingredients to friends coming along to harvest lichen for her "I Lichen You" bar.

A real turning point for Bernice came when her mom's friend dropped off a bucket of bowhead whale blubber, a traditional ingredient that had been used for centuries by the Inuit in skin and body care.

"I was thinking no, that's just crazy, how do you mix in blubber," she said, noting that due to colonization and the effects of overhunting by whalers, many of the Inuit traditions had been suppressed over generations.

But Bernice and Justin felt guilty for letting a gift go to waste so they decided to try incorporating it into their product. And the result was magic.

"We call it liquid gold," she said.

"Then more elders would come to me and say, 'You should try bearded seal oil. That was medicine too, for earaches or sore throat or for bad skin.'"

Bernice and Justin incorporated bowhead whale oil into their line of body butters and soap and, going off of Bernice's playful personality, added bearded seal oil to a beard oil product "to be punny".

Uasau's use of traditional Inuit knowledge in modern products has been a life-changing experience for Bernice. While always a proud Inuk, she has now become a fierce advocate for preserving Inuit traditions, culture, and language and for supporting other Indigenous women in entrepreneurship.

"I'm an ambassador for my culture," she says. Through a second business, Bernice is doing cultural consultation, teaching about the effects of colonization, and fighting cultural appropriation on social media. She is also lifting up other women and Inuit entrepreneurs through her work and by buying, wearing, and using their products.

She has also joined a theatre group, which she loves because it allows her a creative outlet for her storytelling.

"My passion is telling my Inuit stories," she says, her entire face etched with joy as she recounts the creation story of Sedna, the sea goddess.

"I play her mother, Sedna's mother, and I've become her," she said.

Bernice wears her markings — kakiniit — with pride. Kakiniit is a sacred tradition for the Inuit but was banned by the Catholic Church and called "evil" for years.

"As Inuit, we are marked. We are supposed to be marked. This is who we are."

And much like the soaps Bernice makes, they tell the story of the Inuit and the land of Nunavut.