Working from the Heart, Binding together Ojibwe Art with Community Organizing, a new pathway for Entrepeneurship
Reporting to you live from Native land today. As a small Native owned business, Heart Berry is also one of the fastest growing in the Midwest. But as a Native artist and CEO, I want to grow down and out, not only up. Alongside our collaborative partner Eighth Generation we have been able to build our reach and grow from pencil drawing and custom regalia to teaching, creating art installations, and donating thousands of dollars a year to local organizations.
As Native people we often get told we are in two worlds. As an Anishinaabekwe I reject this idea. It pulls me in two many directions and makes me feel like less than human. I want to create a life that makes us feel our wholeness. Louie Gong, the founder of Eighth Generation shined the light on this possibility. Where who we are is not only recognized but valued and space is built for us to thrive. I believe in doing entrepreneurship our way. Why am I telling you all this??
When I started Heart Berry I was creating custom regalia and beadwork one off at my kitchen table in 2014. I have been growing every year, learning, teaching, stretching, and trying to build capacity for nine years.
Since the beginning of Heart Berry we have been doing give backs. From mask donations to baby moccasin gifting what began as small give backs has grown. I know that there is so much powerful and important work happening and Heart Berry is a small part of supporting that work. I love to make. I love seeing our art out in the world. I love to watch people’s faces as they see our beautiful art in their life every day. But making Things for the sake of things doesn’t fulfill my soul. Our art is meant to tell a story. Whether sharing about Treaty rights, jingle dress, stories, wild rice restoration, and more. Doing community work with a large vision is where we have pivoted in the last few years. As a community organizer I have always known we hold the power to create space we believe needs to exist. So why not utilize our art to support organizations? Why not support those with boots on the ground? This fills my heart.
Our first large initiative was gathering the KwePack to raise awareness around our Missing Murdered Indigenous Relatives with Nedahness Greene Photography in 2018. This magnificent photoshoot brought together powerful community with survivors to show the power we hold as a collective. These images have been seen in magazines, calendars, and been the face of some beautiful MMIR work.
During the pandemic we launched an product line with Duluth Pack. Unfortunately, after the business' alliance with the Trump campaign we decided to end this collaboration and we donated $6,000 in backpacks, totes, and purses filled with hygiene supplies to the LifeHouse, a young adult supportive space in Duluth.
Representative Jamie Becker-Finn and I began to see each other at MN United games in 2020 and quickly hatched soccer x Heart Berry x MN Dark Clouds. The Dark Clouds are MN’s largest and oldest soccer fan club. Our very first “We are United” sweater raised $9,300 for Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition through which they created a Survivor’s Fund. This really revealed to me the ways we can all win. We can combine all our great loves with our heart work and create powerful alliances that make real impact. Heart Berry is a 1-4 person operation, raising thousands of dollars an an LLC. If we could do this, I knew more was possible!
We took our collaboration with the Dark Clouds to the field in 2022 to design the first Native art flag for the Wonderwall which now waves proudly during the games. Flags are a marker of place. We belong everywhere. We can utilize our art and our heart to make happen whatever we decide. We want our families and communities to know they belong and their dreams should be giant.
In early 2023 we launched our Protect ICWA Campaign, working alongside Bidaabin Consulting we initiated an educational campaign and fundraiser for the Protect ICWA Hoodie. With your support we raised $7,430 for the ICWA Law Center. I am going to be honest that for me as a rez kid, sewing at the kitchen table, I never in a million years imagined I would be able to DONATE $7,430. But this is the power of our stories, our art, and our heart.
On April 15, 2023 we launched our “We are on Native Land” TIFO Banner at Allianz field alongside our partners the Wonderwall. We are taking back our truths every day. Being able to normalize accurate history and truth telling is profound work. Unfurling this banner directly after the national anthem is a statement by us as Native people of our inherent role but also as our allies standing with us as powerful partners. Heart Berry was honored at this Native Heritage Night as the Letoile Du Nord or Star of the North.
And how does this banner help us? Allianz field rests on Dakota territory. Alongside the Wonderwall, we launched the pre-sale tshirt on April 17 to raise money for Wakan Tipi Awanyankapi Center who works to connect people to the sacred landscape through immersive experiences in Dakota history, lifeways, language, and values. This tshirt has already been wildly successful and we cannot wait to announce the final fundraising results after it closed May 8.
What’s next? Heart Berry will continue to create beautiful art, gather stories, build community, and support those doing the work. I know each of us plays a different unique role and this one is mine. I interchange between we and I because I am writing this as Giizh but this work and this art is Ours. One path, one heart, and one whole good life.