“Be an accessory to change” is the mission of Her Braids, a Canada-based e-commerce site that sells beaded pendants to raises funds and awareness for the Indigenous water crisis.
The founder of Her Braids, Sunshine Quem Tenasco, is Anishinabe from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Quebec. She is committed to helping make clean drinking water in First Nations communities a reality by hosting youth beading workshops and donating a portion of business profits to the David Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot Movement.
Kitigan Zibi, a First Nations reserve, has gone without clean drinking water for 15 years.
“The Blue Dot Movement is a David Suzci project that specifically aims to make clean drinking water a human right in Canada,” explains Tenasco. “What was supposed to be a nine-month project, grew and morphed into what we have 5 years later.”
As an e-commerce business, Her Braids has been operating online as usual. While in-person workshops are on hold, the business is using social media to empower Indigenous communities, support social justice and advocate against water injustices.
“However, due to COVID-19, I’ve had all my workshops cancelled. Not ideal for an entrepreneur,” says Tenasco. “My other project, Pow Wow Pitch, has shifted tremendously.”
Tenasco is also the founder of Pow Wow Pitch, an annual pitch competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada. The competition is usually held at the largest pow wow in Ontario to provide a supportive, empowering environment that addresses the challenges of Indigenous entrepreneurs and presents the opportunity to access mentors and micro-grants. In light of the pandemic, with the help of digital tools, the Pow Wow Pitch is moving online.
“We are using social media to stay connected with customers and partners. We use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and a whole lot of Zoom. Thank goodness for Zoom,” she emphasizes.
The Pow Wow Pitch is also hiring a technology provider to organize the event digitally.
“I actually think it’s better because we’re going to reach all of these entrepreneurs online who would not have been able to travel to us otherwise,” shares Tenasco. “Mentorship may seem like a small piece of the whole puzzle, but it’s so important because entrepreneurs just starting off always have so many questions. This way, we can open up these opportunities to any entrepreneurs throughout our communities as long as they have access to the internet.”
For Tenasco, the Pow Wow Pitch started as a passion project.
“I was getting a lot of emails asking for advice and I’m not an expert in every area. The Pow Wow Pitch lets me help an entrepreneur get three different mentors all focusing on a different area they are going to help shape,” she shares.
In previous years, the Pow Wow Pitch was held at a physical pow wow to enable a welcoming, familiar environment and give Indigenous entrepreneurs the confidence to take their next step.
“There are different business incubators and accelerator programs everywhere. Often not a lot of Indigenous people will participate because the people running them are often not people they can relate to. They are not Indigenous, they are not people of color. It can be intimidating. There’s a divide.”
“When you see someone who looks like you and has similar upbringings, doing these impressive things, it’s inspiring,” Tenasco concludes.