A group of women in Kanesatake have embarked on a mission to prove that with great minds grows great ideas.
Three Kanehsata’kehró:non recently shared their intention to spawn a food forest and a medicine wheel garden in the community – the project was developed during the latest edition of the StartUP Nations Ikwe program, which ended on May 31.
Throughout the 12-week program headed by the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Economic Development Commission (FNQLEDC), the cohort was provided with training specifically designed for female Indigenous entrepreneurs interested in designing social economy projects and furthering their business skills.
“From the very beginning, the objective was to accompany projects developed by women – but more importantly, it was also to enhance the competencies and confidence of these participants,” explained social economy advisor at FNQLEDC Karine Awashish.
Driven by a desire to create a positive impact for future generations, the Kanesatake team set out to launch a project that would promote food self-sufficiency through a food forest, consisting of fruits, vegetables, plants, flowers, nuts and medicine wheel herbs.
Cohort member Kyla-Emma Kanietenhawi said it is her passion for agriculture and desire to create something for the community that led her to the food forest idea.
“Our mission is to create self-autonomy within our community, and this project is a good first step towards doing just that,” said Kanietenhawi, who holds a certificate in nutrition and body transformation.
The health enthusiast explained that while the whole team contributed to the development of the sustainable growth project, it was Kanehsata’kehró:non Marie-Claude Sarrazin who initially came up with the food forest idea.
For Sarrazin, the business-oriented program and the subsequent project it led to both served as a reminder that motherhood doesn’t have to put an end to entrepreneurial ambitions.
“The training gave me back the motivation to carry out projects that I had put aside since I had children,” said Sarrazin. “I want to be able to balance work and family life the same way I did for the project during these 12 weeks.”
The young mother explained that there were occasions throughout the program when she had to carry out meetings with her kids present, and that although it sometimes meant being less productive, juggling kids and work is her reality.
“I want my children to participate with me in the startup and development of this project which is very important to me,” expressed Sarrazin.
The final participant to make up the trio is community member and entrepreneur woman, Jennifer Trentin.
“I came into the project with a food co-op in mind, because I was thinking of the concept of food independence – wanting to detach from reliance on supply chains and big grocers,” expressed Trentin.
She explained that the project encompasses the ideas of each Kanien’kehá:ka woman: Kanietenhawi with the medicine wheel herbs, Sarrazin’s food forest and herself with the co-op component.
“We were all coming from a nutrition standpoint of wanting to bring healthy produce to the community,” said Trentin.
Among the many successful ingredients that make up this business model is the cultural element, which, according to Awashish, is paramount.
“In order to mobilize and favour the collective engagement, we have to put cultural elements at the forefront of all these initiatives,” pointed out the FNQLEDC advisor.
“The example of the team in Kanesatake, as well as our two other groups, further confirms that this is in fact true.”
With the food forest project still in its formative phase, the team of Kanehsata’kehró:non expressed how thankful they were for the continued encouragement offered by the StartUP Nations Ikwe team.
Awashish explained that although the program may have concluded, the involvement of facilitators and speakers will carry on through the assistance of participants as they bring to fulfill their ambitious projects.
“What we did was really create a beautiful family where we are committed to maintain relationships and support – even after the program ends,” said Awashish. “Our job doesn’t end here.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door