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5 Amazing Small Indigenous Businesses You Should Know About

Photo Credit: Kristina Dittmar

We all know that supporting small Canadian businesses also supports communities. Buying from Indigenous small businesses helps combats economic marginalization and supports First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

According to JP Gladu, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), “we need to think of Economic Reconciliation within the broader context of Reconciliation. Indigenous people need to be compensated fairly and equitably in the Canadian economy and we know that that has not always been the case.”

In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day, here are five Indigenous small business owners in Canada whose beautiful and sustainable products are making waves in their communities.

Ojibway Natural (Sault Ste. Marie, ON)

Nangoons Wabegijig is an Anishinaabe mother and entrepreneur from Garden River First Nation. She lives in Goulais River, just outside of Sault Ste Marie. She started Ojibway Natural, a bath and body care company, while on maternity leave with her son. 

I have always had sensitive skin and struggled with eczema most of my life,” she says. “I am not able to use most commercial products and started making my own soap as an alternative.” When family and friends started to take notice of her products, Wabegijig expanded her product line. 

All of my products are hand-made and packaged,” she says. “I use the medicine scents in my products––sage, cedar and sweetgrass––which aren’t commonly used by other bath and body product companies.”

Ojibway Natural has since grown into a full-time job for Wabegijig. 

“It’s important to me to not only have a business that supports my family but also gives me the opportunity to give back. I frequently donate products, giveaways, and work with charity organizations to recognize their volunteers or to raise money for their causes.”

The standout product: With a short ingredient list and no unnecessary colours or additives, easy-lathering Ojibway Natural soaps are a perfect choice for those with sensitive skin.

Warren Steven Scott (Toronto, ON)

Toronto-based jewelry and clothing designer Warren Steven Scott is a member of Nlaka’pamux Nation and Boothroyd First Nation, with Sts’ailes and British ancestry. 

He began his namesake label in 2018 after participating in the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (now Indigenous Fashion Arts). 

I was one of 21 designers selected to showcase a collection for Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. This was my first runway show and collection and the first time I was really presenting myself and my perspective,” Scott says. “For a fashion show, you start thinking of the viewer, how to capture imagination and how to entertain the eyes. The clothing for this collection came to me first, but it was this idea of the viewer that got me thinking that it couldn’t just be the clothing on its own; these had to be complete looks. That’s where the earrings came in and that started everything, really. My earrings are what I’m known for today.”

Scott says that cultural events like Indigenous Fashion Arts made it easier for him to showcase his craft and design in a space where his work will be truly celebrated and supported. “It was a welcoming event for all of us. Not every space has offered that to me as an Indigenous creative.”

The standout product: The Salish Chandelier earrings and Mixed Ovoid earrings. “They debuted in 2018 and I’m still making them today. I’m really proud I’ve found a timeless product and design. The fashion industry tends to focus on what’s new and what’s next. But pieces need to last more than just one season.”

Red Cedar Woman (Sechelt, BC)

Jessica Silvey, of Sechelt and Squamish ancestry, started her weaving business in 2011.

“Red Cedar Woman is an ancestral name given to me from the Elders,” she says. “In Shishalh language, my name is texem-ay s-lhanay. Weaving fills me up, it makes me feel connected to our ancestors, to my grandmother, and to our Earth.”

Silvey began teaching cedar bark basket weaving in 2004 and Salish wool weaving in 2008, becoming part of a huge revival of Indigenous weaving culture in Sechelt. She now teaches weaving to school teachers and university students across the province.

“The fact that one day soon our youth will open a textbook and see their history, indigenous knowledge, and culture on the page and take pride in that is something that gives me hope for our future generations. That the horrific history of the Indian Act and the Residential School will be just that, history. Culture heals.”

Red Cedar Woman uses the same plants Indigenous people have used for millennia: cedar, wild rose, devil’s club, labrador tea, sage, and more. 

“So many people are choosing to live a simpler way of life, to grow gardens, save energy, save the oceans and live a life connected to our Mother Earth,” she says.

The standout product: Her cedar mat kit. “Teachers across the province use it in their classrooms continuously.”

Moonstone Creation (Calgary, AB)

A member of Sucker Creek First Nations, Yvonne Jobin ditched a career in corporate finance to focus on making art close to her heart. She has taught traditional drum making, hide-tanning, and organized beading retreats. 

The talented Cree artist also makes dresses, custom parkas and beaded moccasins made from authentic moose hide. Jobin opened her bricks and mortar Inglewood shop, Moonstone Creation, in 2009, running the small business with help from her daughter Amy (who tragically passed away in 2021) and her nieces, Kim and Tina.

Starting out as a Native business owner was challenging,” says Jobin. “We started with a shoestring budget and no funding. Our focus was to create a hub to promote the arts and be a beacon of light for those wishing to find their cultural roots, but also to share with the broader community.”

Moonstone Creation not only houses Jobin’s exquisite creations, but it’s since become a vibrant community hub for other Indigenous artists in Calgary, in Alberta, and across the country. They also offer cultural arts workshops to industry and government.

“I’ve always been adamant about helping to promote and preserve the culture through the arts, through all of the classes, and the beautiful things we create,” says Jobin.

The standout product: Moonstone Creation is the place to go for products made from traditional Native Smoke Tanned hide. “I consider it to be the elite of all leathers and the smoky smell is grounding and connects us all to the ancestral ways.”

Anne Mulaire (Winnipeg, MB)

Originally a dancer, Andréanne Mulaire Dandeneau began her career as a clothing designer by creating costumes for Nafro Dance Productions. In 2005, she launched her own small clothing design business.  

The business evolved into what is known today as Anne Mulaire. The line pays homage to the designer’s Anishinaabe/ French Métis roots and features beautiful, comfortable, effortlessly chic, and size-inclusive clothing for women.

Preservation of the natural world is front and centre for Anne Mulaire.

“Through initiatives like our new Revive program, our Zero Waste program, and mending services, we strive for a more circular economy, which is much needed in the clothing industry. We also focus on incorporating sustainable and high-quality Canadian-milled materials into our lines,” says Dandeneau.

In 2021, the business hired Green Story to trace their environmental footprint from seed to shelf, “so we can tread as lightly on our planet as possible.” 

The standout product: Their Bamboo leggings. “Soft on the inside, flexible, and featuring a wonderfully comfortable high waist, they are perfect for any activity. Plus, all our bamboo is Canadian milled and dyed using fair-trade yarns and low-impact, Azo-free dyes.” 

There is so much artistic and creative Indigenous talent to discover and over 40,000 small Indigenous businesses in Canada who are worth supporting. We challenge you to find a Indigenous small business in a community near you and support what they’re doing–  today and every day.

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