Canada’s female indigenous population, imbued with strength and rich history, faces significant challenges. But Devon Fiddler and Heather Abbey, two aboriginal female business owners from Saskatchewan, don’t want to talk about problems — problems they say are over-emphasized when mainstream media tells aboriginal women’s stories.
Instead, they’re focused on solutions — or rather, one particular solution: entrepreneurship.
Growing Ventures and Strengthening Communities
Fiddler, 27, and Abbey, 33, are the owners of SheNative Goods Inc. and ShopIndig.ca, respectively, both fashion-focused businesses that celebrate their heritage and culture while also earning profits.
The path to business ownership wasn’t smooth for either of them. Abbey (who was pregnant while starting her business) struggled to fund and maintain her online fashion vendor collective and pop-up shop in its early days, ultimately turning to prize money from business competitions for additional startup capital. Fiddler, meanwhile, executed two separate crowdfunding campaigns to get her Internet-based handbag and accessories shop off the ground.
But since launching earlier this year, both have found their stride. And now, in addition to ramping up their ventures, the two women are leading initiatives to engage Saskatchewan’s female and youth populations in learning about entrepreneurship.
Specifically, Abbey is working with area youth by visiting nearby high schools to talk about business ownership, while Fiddler is preparing to launch Her 4 Directions, a fashion incubator, later this year. The incubator is Fiddler’s true passion project: “Everything came back to empowering women — no matter what, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Abbey and Fiddler are determined to upend the harmful stigmas and stereotypes assigned to indigenous women and flip what they feel is a very tired script. They want their community to see business ownership as a possibility — and people outside it to see indigenous women for their potential, rather than their shared struggle.
To be certain, the problems facing these women are real. It’s estimated that indigenous women are three times more likely than non-indigenous Canadian women to become victims of violent crimes. As a result, many feel out of control, and a tragic number become involved in drug use and prostitution.
But as Fiddler says, “I want people to know that it’s not all problems and social issues in our community. There are really amazing women out there, doing really great things.”
She added that an emphasis on missing and murdered indigenous women, particularly by news media, is harmful in and of itself — especially when uniformed readers leave insensitive comments. “We’re not bad people, just because of the things that happen to us. But this is why we want women to change their mindsets, to really believe they can achieve anything they want to.”
Abbey agrees. “I see so many out there who have such great potential, but there’s no one to give them opportunities.”
Abbey and Fiddler’s successful ventures, hard work, innovative ideas and deep-seated belief in entrepreneurship as a problem-solver recently attracted attention from the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance. And after a rigorous, multi-step application process, both women were selected to represent Canada (along with 20 other young business owners) at this year’s G20 YEA Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
They are thrilled about the opportunities the Summit will afford them — not only to learn, but to teach and make an impact on the international entrepreneurial community.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime,” Abbey says. “It’s an opportunity to not only represent Canada, but to be on an international playing field with so many amazing entrepreneurs.”
“There will be so many learning and networking opportunities,” Fiddler adds. “But we also want to be able to put our mark on entrepreneurship, to contribute in some way.”
To make their cross-Atlantic trip, the duo recently launched a GoFundMe campaign. Through it, they hope to raise the money needed for flights and shared accommodations — $5,500 in all. If all goes well, they will be packing for Turkey by this time next month.
What Lies Ahead
Beyond Istanbul, both women have big visions for their businesses — and big dreams for their fellow indigenous women.
Fiddler wants SheNative to go international. “I’d like to see celebrities wearing it and contributing to the cause. I want to bring about a bigger movement — and changing mindsets and perceptions of indigenous women is going to be a big theme. I want SheNative to become a well-enough known brand for that to happen.”
Abbey’s eyes are cast toward the future as well — specifically, in the direction of the next generation. After all, as a mother, she’s particularly concerned with creating a better future for her children.
“I came from a place in Saskatchewan that’s been called the ‘worst neighborhood in Canada.’ There was crime and poverty. I know what it feels like to have absolutely nothing. I know how to cook ramen 12 different ways,” she says. “And I don’t want that for my kids.”
But as an entrepreneur, she has experienced firsthand the empowerment that comes with creating one’s own professional destiny. “The possibilities seem to be limitless, and they keep coming at me.”