First Nation businesswoman Hiawatha Osawamick grew up surrounded by enterprising and entrepreneurial women who were strong in their cultural traditions.
Her grandmother, mother and aunts–the legendary Osawamicks from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario–travelled the powwow circuit dishing out Indian tacos and scone dogs to huge line-ups of people at their portable café.
Little wonder that Hiawatha herself embarked on not just one, but two, business ventures to do with food and retaining cultural traditions.
“Seeing my mom and grandma in the kitchen at powwows, they were always laughing and having fun. That was a huge positive influence,” said 32-year-old Osawamick.
After spending almost 15 years in the food industry, which included working for her mother’s catering business and several years at the Casino Rama restaurants, she launched her first business, Ozaawmik’s Catering.
Everything she learned from her mother and her time at Casino Rama about planning, budgeting and feeding thousands of people has made her business the premiere catering service for Aboriginal cuisine in Ontario.
Osawamick got the idea for her second business shortly after the birth of her first daughter. She’d made a cradleboard for her daughter that elicited not only compliments but also orders from people who wanted one for their own baby or to give as gifts.
She launched an online business selling clothing and accessories for babies, including traditional moss bags and cradleboards.
At this time of year, she’s also itching to get back on the powwow trail where she sets up a booth to sell her unique designs. She’s now the mother of three daughters between the ages of four and one years old who travel with her. Her girls dance at powwows the same way she did when she travelled with her family’s business and she loves being able to continue the tradition.
Osawamick was in Toronto recently to give a workshop on making cradleboards and moss bags. It was offered by the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts (ANDPVA). The mission of ANDPVA, a national arts organization based in Toronto, is to create, support and develop a self-sufficient community of Indigenous artists who preserve traditional knowledge, advance respective cultural identities and reflect evolving cultural expression.
Offering workshops to help people learn the traditional arts and crafts, said Osawamick, was a response to the market demand.
Donna Naughton, originally from Pic River First Nation in Ontario, was at the workshop to make a cradleboard for her four-month-old granddaughter Luna Mae. Naughton was in a cradleboard herself when she was a baby and “continuing the cultural tradition and learning the craft instills pride in my family. We’re in a time where there’s a hunger to learn,” she continued.
“My role as a grandma is to teach and if I don’t know, I can’t teach.”
Osawamick travels to First Nation communities upon request and also offers workshops on making powwow regalia and leather mitts.
Being a businesswoman doesn’t present a conflict with Osawamick’s traditional values.
“To me, being successful in business isn’t about financial or social status,” she said. “It’s about doing something I enjoy and am passionate about. It’s helped me become a stronger person, mother and aunt. I cook with love and laughter like my grandmother and mother. I cook with peace of mind and respect for the animals and love of the land.”
Her rewards come when she sees her daughters tucking their dolls into cradleboards or cooking in their play kitchens, or when people walk proudly out of her workshops with their finished cradleboards and moss bags.