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Northwestern Ontario Indigenous entrepreneurs encouraged to apply for program

A Thunder Bay CEDC program for Indigenous entrepreneurs in the Northwest is renewed and now accepting applications.
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Kathleen Sawdo is the owner of Sister Bear Designs. She was a participant in the Thunder Bay CEDC program for Indigenous Entrepreneurs. (photo courtesy of Kathleen Sawdo)

For Kathleen Sawdo, a small business owner from Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation, business is more than money.

Sawdo owns Sister Bear Designs, a company that specializes in handmade Indigenous wearable art.

“My auntie and father were part of the Sixties Scoop. My grandparents were residential school survivors,” she said. “[For] our generation, it’s about working towards reclaiming parts we weren’t able to access before and we’ve done that successfully through our beadwork and wearable art.”

Sawdo was part of the last cycle of a Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) program for Indigenous entrepreneurs called Miinikaanan Badakidoon, which was recently renewed. The program, which means "to plant the seeds" in Anishinaabemowin from the Lake Nipigon dialect, is designed for new entrepreneurs and those with existing businesses who want to grow.

Sawdo said she joined the program to expand into food, specifically preserves with a modern twist, which she is hoping to launch later this summer.

“I harvest as much as I can from our traditional territory,” she said. “[We are] reclaiming our traditional foods. And we’re doing that as a family, so we’re going back to working in our home community.”

Four generations of her family, including her sons, work together at her business, said Sawdo. The business operates online and has a storefront in the Goods & Co. Market in Thunder Bay.

“The value in having the business is creating a safe space, is ensuring that knowledge is passed onto another generation and providing that. You know, as Indigenous people, we worked, we earned our spot. Right? Everybody has a place in the circle. And so that’s what I’m trying to teach the kids.”

Sawdo says other Indigenous entrepreneurs should consider applying to the program. She said she found the flexibility to still work full-time helpful as well as the networking opportunities with a wide variety of people from Indigenous businesses large and small.

“There was a time where as Indigenous people, we couldn’t even own a business,” she said. “So we’re catching up; we're learning fast.”

Applications to the CEDC program are being accepted now until Sept. 22.

— NWONewsWatch