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Canada's only Indigenous coloured gemstone lapidary a cut above

COVID-19 layoffs lead Ryan Ross on a glittering new path.

SASKATOON — Ryan Ross has an unusually rare vocation – only 120 or so people in Canada are in his profession of gemstone cutting.

He wasn’t raised in the lapidary tradition but rather became unexpectedly captivated by it around the same time he decided to get married. 

“While I was searching for an engagement sapphire for my partner, I was looking at all these gemstones and fell in love with how every one had a different reflection and design," said Ross. "It was something I’d never seen before."

Ross, a member of Montreal Lake Cree Nation and Saskatoon resident, was working at Dakota Dunes Casino at the time when COVID-19 forced lay-offs at his work. He took the opportunity to chase this newfound passion – he researched gemstone cutting machines, bought one from India, and taught himself the trade using books and YouTube videos. 

After almost two years of self-training, Ross now has his own gemstone-cutting business – 3 Sisters Gem Stones, named after his three daughters. 

He hopes to soon take his business full-time, and offer Saskatchewan a service it hasn’t had before. 

“There is no one else in Saskatchewan who does this as a business, so I would like to capitalize on that,” said Ross. 

He said most jewellers have to go out of province if they need something specific, while consumers often settle for what’s available in stores rather than getting exactly what they had in mind. 

“I can solve those issues. I can source any stone out there, and cut them to any shape or design they’re looking for,” said Ross. 

He also understands the cultural value of gemstones. Ross said a lot of beadwork and traditional designs use fake gemstones made of plastic. He knows Indigenous people and their art deserve better. 

“I would really like to get Indigenous people out of using plastics," said Ross. "I think it’s unfair, I think it’s a rip-off. All those nice beaded earrings use plastic as a stone – it’s hurting the environment as well.”

While Ross can polish diamonds, he wants to focus exclusively on cutting coloured gemstones, which have become more popular in recent years, particularly with men, he said.

Despite its popularity, the art form seems to be dying, said Ross, as he is the only Indigenous lapidary in the country that he is aware of. 

“Indigenous people have been cutting gemstones in the States and southern Canada for years," he said. "I would really like to teach other people to get into the art form."

Ross bought a second machine for the very purpose of teaching others his craft. He offers a two-day course, in which the student can cut a stone for themselves at its conclusion.

“I don’t want to be the only one in Saskatchewan doing this," he said. "I want to teach anyone willing to learn. And hopefully one day I can pass this business down to my daughters.”

Ross’ work can be found on Instagram at 3sistersgemstones, where he offers cutting and recutting, polishing services, and commissioned work.