Indigenous craft businesses aim to uplift, support communities

Indigenous Chamber of Commerce says consumers have begun to see buying from Indigenous businesses as a form of economic reconciliation.

Indigenous Chamber of Commerce says there's more interest buying from Indigenous artisans

Dana Connolly owns and runs Medicine Garden Society. She infuses self-care items with medicines like sweetgrass, cedar and sage. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC )

One Indigenous business owner infuses self care products with Indigenous medicines because she wants people to stay connected to their roots.

Dana Connolly makes bath bombs and lip balms infused with sweetgrass, cedar and sage and other sacred medicines so when people smell those scents they're reminded of home.

"Something as simple as a sweetgrass chapstick, putting it on and having a smell and then remembering that time that maybe you went sweetgrass picking with your parents or your kokum," said Connolly, the owner of the Medicine Garden Society.

"Really just having people remember who they are and embracing that."

Connolly is from Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, but spent most of her life in Winnipeg. She started making her products to give to people after Sundance ceremonies the summer of 2016.

Sundance is a sacred ceremony practised among some plains First Nations. After Connolly's fourth year of ceremony she gave products away to the other attendees.

Connolly brought her products to market the winter of 2020 and since then she's had a hard time keeping up with demand. She's even turned her home into a bath bomb making factory. 

"My partner Cory, he makes a lot of the products that we do. Our kids label everything, we harvest the medicines together, so it's been a healing process," said Connolly.

Connolly said she's driven by cultural reclamation and sees the medicines as a great way to teach other people. The market for her products — like the Indigenous business community — is growing in Winnipeg, too. 

Supporting Indigenous business, she said, means money is going back into the Indigenous community.

"That means everything to me, knowing that relatives and community members are living in abundance," said Connolly.

Cecil Sveinson is an Anishinaabe leather belt maker and finds joy when people look their best in his work. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Cecil Sveinson from Poplar River First Nation in Manitoba, is another business owner in Winnipeg. He said he had to stop posting the leather belts he makes to Facebook during the year in order to build up his belt collection.

Now, he has over 70 in stock and can dye them to match people's regalia.

He said he takes pride in the belts because it helps people look their best.

"That's probably my favourite part of doing this, that people appreciate my work and that it could make them feel good," said Sveinson.

He owns Buffalo Dancer Designs and started working on the leather belts after a request from his wife. She showed them to a few other people and soon word of mouth spread.

Now, he said his belts are in high demand year round.

Sveinson said he gains a lot from people looking their best when they attend ceremonies and leather working for him is a great way to de-stress.

"This is just a great way to turn it off," said Sveinson.

WATCH | Indigenous artisans hope sales help community

Indigenous artisans hoping sales will support communities

3 months ago
Duration 4:27
Interest in products created by Indigenous entrepreneurs is growing — and with proceeds going back into the community, artisans say they’re hoping to build support for the next generation.

He's hoping even more Indigenous people add to the growing Indigenous economy with their talents.

And as shoppers look for gifts for friends and family this holiday season, they should be encouraged to buy from Indigenous makers, says Manitoba's Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.

Jamie Dumont, who is Métis from St. Laurent, Man., and the board of directors chair for the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, said Indigenous businesses are helping to grow the economy in Manitoba and consumers can play a vital role in injecting capital into Indigenous businesses.

Jamie Dumont is the board of directors chair for Manitoba's Indigenous Chamber of Commerce. (Charlie McDougall )

She's spent over five years with the chamber and said although they don't have hard data, she's noticed an increase in interest for products that are made sustainably, locally, and by Indigenous artisans.

Dumont said consumers have begun to see buying from Indigenous businesses as a form of economic reconciliation.

"It's growing the wealth and the success within our communities," said Dumont.

She said Indigenous artists make incredible work, and non-Indigenous people can purchase and wear those items, as long as it's not ceremonial.

Dumont added people should research and make sure the art is made by an artist connected to an Indigenous community. 

"Look into who you're buying from," said Dumont. 


Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe

with files from Kevin Nepitabo