Celebrating First Nations women in Quebec who are running small businesses

·5 min read
Karen Francis and her daughters are the faces behind K.francisbrand, a modern jewelry business in Akwesasne.   (Kelsey Lindsay Photography - image credit)
Karen Francis and her daughters are the faces behind K.francisbrand, a modern jewelry business in Akwesasne. (Kelsey Lindsay Photography - image credit)

March 8 marks International Women's Day, a day to shine a light on efforts to advance gender equality in communities across the country. Meet seven First Nations women in Quebec who took the leap to be their own bosses, and hear their best advice to First Nations women wanting to start their own businesses.

Janessa Breault and Emmy Kearney

Janessa Breault, 14, and Emmy Kearney, 13, turned their love for beading and sewing into a small business in Timiskaming First Nation, Que.
Janessa Breault, 14, and Emmy Kearney, 13, turned their love for beading and sewing into a small business in Timiskaming First Nation, Que. (Submitted by Three Little Bears)

Teenagers Janessa Breault and Emmy Kearney from Timiskaming First Nation, Que., turned their love for sewing and beading into a small business over a year ago. It's called the Three Little Bears. Using Facebook and community events, the girls sell their jewelry and regalia on top of going to school and working other part-time jobs.

"We work on our business with every spare second we have. We work on our business after school, between our shifts at our other jobs, and during the weekends," said Breault.

Words of advice from Breault: People will doubt you, so work very hard to prove them wrong.

Iohserenhawi Bova

Iohserenhawi Bova started the Birdhouse Baker in 2020, making beautifully decorated sugar cookies.
Iohserenhawi Bova started the Birdhouse Baker in 2020, making beautifully decorated sugar cookies.(Submitted by Iohserenhawi Bova )

Iohserenhawi Bova started making intricate decorated sugar cookies while she was in pastry school, and ended up turning it into her business, the Birdhouse Baker.

"I always knew I wanted to work for myself and do something for myself and it all worked out all the perfect time," said Bova.

"I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the reaction on people's faces when they look at their cookies."

She bakes out of her home in Kahnawake, Que., taking custom orders and working with a local cafe. She likes to give back by including her Instagram followers in the process of choosing weekly design themes.

Words of advice from Bova: Don't underestimate yourself, and don't take everybody as competition. Don't be scared of the people who are in the same industry as you. It's better to go in thinking you're all going to help each other rather than beat somebody out of the game.

Karen Francis

Karen Francis and daughters make beaded jewelry and ribbon skirts.
Karen Francis and daughters make beaded jewelry and ribbon skirts.(Kelsey Lindsay Photography)

Crafting, sewing, and beading was passed down to Karen Francis from her mother and grandmother.

Now she's carrying the tradition with K.francisbrand, her beaded jewelry business.

"K.francisbrand is not just about me, it's about my daughters as well," she said.

"It's all rooted in traditions that came from my grandmother and mother, and now I'm passing it onto my daughters."

Francis holds pop-up sales throughout Akwesasne, which straddles the Ontario, Quebec and New York state border.

Words of advice from Francis: Make sure throughout the process of starting your own business that you absolutely love what you do.

Anna Cote

Anna Cote runs the Birch Bite in Kitigan Zibi, Que.
Anna Cote runs the Birch Bite in Kitigan Zibi, Que. (The Birch Bite/Facebook)

Anna Cote has been running the Birch Bite restaurant in Kitigan Zibi, Que., for the last three years. She is focusing on providing a healthy menu with comfort, soul, wild meat and foraged foods.

"I like to play around and fuse them together with other cultural foods," said Cote.

"I don't believe we could use wild meats and fish to sustain the restaurant, our traditional belief system wouldn't allow it, but just the fact that going back to a traditional diet and promoting that is for good health."

Words of advice from Cote: Jump in and do it, there's so much opportunity out there. There's so much room for more women to be out there just killing it.

Skye Thomas

Skye Thomas started GIA Kahnawake in 2017.
Skye Thomas started GIA Kahnawake in 2017.(Submitted by Skye Thomas)

In 2017, Skye Thomas opened a women's concept fashion boutique in Kahnawake, Que. As a franchise of her mentor Dorit Levy's Montreal GIA (Get It Agency), Thomas sells premium brands at reduced prices to women of all sizes.

It's called GIA Kahnawake, and she describes it as shopaholic's paradise.

"To some it is just a clothing boutique, but to those who understand the concept, it is an educated service that saves you money and time," said Thomas, who studied fashion marketing.

"Every piece of clothing is hand picked, and brought for a reason. I try to bring pieces that will fit more than one body, meaning the shirt can say size medium, but it fits anyone from xs-xl."

Words of advice from Skye Thomas: Don't get discouraged by every bump in the road, because there will be a lot of them. If you love what you're doing, and you believe in what you're doing, you will succeed by default.

Valerie Gabriel

Valerie Gabriel brings a lifetime of agriculture experience to her work as a consultant and running Nations Garlic.
Valerie Gabriel brings a lifetime of agriculture experience to her work as a consultant and running Nations Garlic. (Submitted by Valerie Gabriel)

Valerie Gabriel brings a lifetime of experience to her environmental, wildlife and agricultural consulting service. She runs a small-scale food farm at Nations Garlic in Kanesatake, Que.

"I realized what I was doing is seed saving garlic, and selling to individuals so that they could either grow their own garlic or they could have garlic to eat throughout the winter," she said.

After taking a break from farming for a year, Gabriel said it made her want to run an educational business, offering the expertise and knowledge she's accumulated in the field.

"You grow up with this understanding that you're supposed to be doing something successful and nobody is really there to confirm that this is what you should be working on. You're not quite sure when you're in, until you're out of it," she said.

"It gave me time to look at myself and to see what I was good at. I realized I had all this knowledge, and realized that's what I wanted to do in my life and there was a need in the community."

Words of advice from Gabriel: If you're passionate about it, understand that and not take it personal when things go wrong and always be willing to grow and adapt.