CBC Ottawa marks National Indigenous Peoples Day with digital series

To celebrate 2021 National Indigenous Peoples Day, CBC Ottawa is sharing the stories of three indigenous entrepreneurs in a special digital series

Meet three Indigenous entrepreneurs making a difference in the Ottawa-Gatineau community

These three entrepreneurs started their business to reconnect with their indigenous roots, share their culture, and make a difference in their respective communities. (Submitted by Trisha Pitura, Stephanie Peltier, Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow)

We all have our favourite local coffee shop, clothing line, or retail store, but how often do you hear the stories behind the founders and owners of these companies? To celebrate this year's National Indigenous Peoples Day, CBC Ottawa reached out to three Indigenous entrepreneurs in the Ottawa-Gatineau area to amplify their unique stories and journeys.

June 21 marks the 25th anniversary of National Indigenous Peoples Day. A day for all Canadians to celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Although these groups share many similarities, they each have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

In this digital series, hear personal anecdotes, what inspired them to share their culture and traditions, and how they are making a difference in the Indigenous communities and in the Capital region. Meet entrepreneurs Trisha Pitura, Stephanie Peltier, and Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Trisha Pitura, Nipissing First Nations

Trisha Pitura says she grew up feeling "not indigenous enough or not enough white." As she embarked on a journey to gain confidence and explore who she is, she began sewing baby clothes as a hobby. Back then, she was a full-time stay-at-home mom, and was sewing part-time in the evenings.

What started out as a basement project, quickly gained popularity among other mothers and sprouted into the female-owned business, MINI TIPI, in 2016.

MINI TIPI sells handmade baby, children, and women accessories with indigenous-designed and inspired prints, from blankets to shawls, beanies, and more.

Pitura runs the business with her co-founder, Mélanie Bernard, who she'd met at a baby aqua fitness class.

"The dynamic Mel and I have is very special," explains Pitura. "She is Quebecois and I am an indigenous woman, and together we are able to create a brand where both indigenous and non-indigenous customers feel comfortable and proud to purchase our products."

Pitura says her and her co-founder were motivated to design and create exclusive prints that not only set them apart, but also spoke to who they are. They also wanted to stop using "generic native-inspired designs." (Crystal Dawn, Of Wild Dawn Photography)

As Pitura reconnects with her culture, she collaborates with Indigenous artists to create distinctive designs and each item includes an artist bio, as well as an explanatory piece of the significance and connection between the product and the indigenous culture.

MINI TIPI gives back to the community through "donations to local food banks and Indigenous women crisis centres, and sharing products to those in need."

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?

It's a day to celebrate our amazing culture, and be proud, not only on one day, but everyday.  Especially this year with all that is in the news. It offers everyone an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and what Indigenous people had to face and overcome.

Stephanie Peltier, Aniishnabee Kwe and Deer clan

Stephanie Peltier says she remembers attending local craft markets and noticing the lack of indigenous artists in comparison to pow-wows booths. Intrigued by business, marketing, and this gap in the market, Peltier decided to share her beadwork in a face-to-face setting as a vendor.

"I am the niece of a residential school survivor. I carry intergenerational trauma, but I also carry intergenerational resilience. My healing journey has been guided through beading which allows me to share my story and my voice," says Peltier.

In 2016, after designing and beading her first jingle dress in honour of her grandmother, Peltier decided to share her beadwork online by opening an Etsy shop. Now, she owns a virtual store through Shopify where she sells beadwork and a special beginner kit for those looking to experience indigenous modernized beadwork – even non-indigenous people.

"One residential school survivor shared her experience with my beading kit," says Peltier. "It has helped her regain strength, resilience, and to reconnect with her culture."

Through her business, Delia Estelle Designs, Peltier also gives back to her indigenous community whether by facilitating workshops on how to bead or sending donations to the Wikwemikong Nursing home, located in Assembly of the 7 Generations in Ottawa.

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?

Peltier says her love and medicine are incorporated into her beadwork work through various materials such as porcupine quills and deer antlers pieces. She has also picked up a new technique called caribou tufting. (Submitted by Stephanie Peltier)

I feel like National Indigenous Peoples Day is everyday for me. I try to smudge daily. I dedicate my time to learn, pronounce and to speak the Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin. Learning the language from my mom, uncles, and aunties is such a humbling experience that sometimes I get emotional.

To our non-indigenous folks, as we celebrate this day, please take time to acknowledge the land you live on and support indigenous artists and businesses.

To my indigenous kin, I share that it is never too late to reconnect to your indigenous roots. Indigenous people come from diverse backgrounds, from many different identities, race, gender, able-bodied, 2SLGBTQ + and afro-indigenous kin.

We are still here and we will continue to rise up.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, Ojibwe and band member of Whitefish River First Nation

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow says [ki] recently started using the pronouns 'Ki' and 'Kin' which in Indigenous culture signify a being of the living Earth. [Ki] says "language can be a tool for cultural transformation," and by using these pronouns people can now also refer to birds and trees "not as things, but as our earthly relatives."

Marsolais-Nahwegahbow has a long history of supporting and advocating for Indigenous culture in Canada.

From being the first Indigenous person to have signage placed in the Ottawa Courthouse showing accessibility to Indigenous justice programs in English, French, Inuktitut and Braille to providing counselling support through the Indian Residential School Survivor Society (IRSSS) crisis line and other organizations like Donna Cona and the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

In 2018 , Marsolais-Nahwegahbow founded the social enterprise and coffee business, Birch Bark Coffee Company Inc. 

"Indigenous people continue to live in third world-like conditions," says Marsolais-Nahwegahbow. "Water is one of the most sacred gifts on Mother Earth and considered medicine in many Indigenous communities."

According to their website, for every 100 bags of coffee sold in a retail store and every 50 bags sold through the company's online store, Birch Bark Coffee Co. equips one Indigenous home with a certified water purification unit.

"By sharing knowledge and educating [on social media] we can help to shift peoples opinions and thoughts for the better, especially about sustainability and social impacts; thus creating an evolution of positive change," says Marsolais-Nahwegahbow. (Czeska Dumali, cmbd photography)

Through the company, Marsolais-Nahwegahbow hopes to bring awareness, education, and tackle "all Water Advisories" in Canada.

What does National Indigenous Peoples Day mean to you?

It is about understanding and acknowledgement.

It is also about a deeper meaning of tradition and ceremony knowing it is the longest daylight of the year. It is about cherishing our communities, next generations and our ancestors.

It is about resilience and sovereignty.

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