By Lee Egerstrom
Seasonal gift shopping has become easier for Native Americans wanting authentic Native products this holiday season and to learn more about the Native artists and shopkeepers.
New and reformulated business directories have hit the market promoting literally hundreds of Minnesota-based Native artisans and other providers of personal and business services. Anchoring these business promotion and shopping tools is the Minnesota Indigenous Business Alliance (MNIBA).
Pamela Standing, co-executive director and a co-founder of MNIBA, said her business group has redesigned what was a Minnesota Native business directory into an Online Buy Native Business Directory (https://directory.mniba.org).
“We started the (original) business directory in 2016. It was a limited tool that we could offer,” she said. MNIBA is currently planning to take the new online directory national. Part of the reason, she said, is that Native businesses and artisans have common problems of outreach everywhere.
Standing, who has a diverse background in business and education, is a member of the Cherokee Nation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and a MBA in International Business and Law.
What she knows from her MNIBA experiences and contacts is that Minnesota is now home to business entrepreneurs and artisans from tribes found all over America.
More than that, Native entrepreneurs and artists are scattered throughout Minnesota. “They aren’t all centered in the Twin Cities metro area or out at the (11) tribal nations,” she said.
Separately, MNIBA pulled together artist groups in mid-2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the murder of George Floyd to strengthen a Minnesota Native Artists Alliance (MNAA). It is starting a companion online site (https://www.mninativeartists.org/directory) that can lead readers to several prominent Minnesota Native artists. Artists can sign up on the website and create their own promotional pages.
MNAA has a studio in the Northrup King Building, 1500 Jackson St. NE in Minneapolis, where the public is invited to stop by on Saturdays Dec. 3, 10 and 17 where they can create their own Winter Gift Giving Boxes with Native arts.
Tapping into MNIBA’s links and resources, The Circle has pulled together examples from the directories that shows the state’s Native diversity and direct people to where they might find art, books, healthcare and beauty care products and services, and foods accessible from online shopping or at store sites.
These limited art and enterprise sectors were chosen for convenient holiday gift shopping. It assumes contracts for construction projects, or various professional and business services from other Native entrepreneurs, aren’t easy to wrap and put under a tree.
One place where diverse Dakota art can be accessed is at the Lower Sioux Indian Community’s Cansayapi Wicoicage Oti that is conveniently also called the “intergenerational cultural incubator.” It represents 50 local artists and is in a beautiful new building at Morton. “It is great at perpetuating Dakota art,” Standing said.
This is an example of how tribal museums and trading posts at Minnesota’s 11 reservations offer helpful and appropriate marketing opportunities for creative Native people.
• Up in Duluth, Indigenous First Arts and Gifts provides market access for 80 area Native artists, along with gift items ranging from books, beadwork and jewelry, ceramics, clothing and Indigenous foods. Indigenous First, housed at 202 W. 2nd St. in Duluth, is a social enterprise operated by the American Indian Community Housing Organization. (https://www.indigenousfirst.org.)
• The Gizhiigin Arts Incubator at Mahnomen represents from 20 to 30 artists on the White Earth Reservation and helps by providing space, resources and technical assistance to further the artists’ entrepreneurial development. (https://www.gizhiigin.org.)
• Also in the Northern market areas, the Water Mark Art Center in Bemidji has four galleries and a gift shop for 20 local artists. (https://www.watermarkartcenter.org.)
• Some artists transcend label and combine a variety of arts. One such example is artist and book illustrator Johnathon Thunder. (https://birchbarknativearts.com/jonathan-thunder.)
A lot of shops and bookstores carry books by Minnesota Native authors. In sheer volume, Native Minnesotans have proven over the years that they can write, and they do become culture bearers for their respective – and their collective – communities.
Covering a swath of literature from children to adult books are Minnesota Native authors including Anton Treuer, Brenda Childs, Sam Zimmerman, Thomas Peacock, Elizabeth Albert-Peacock (with Anna Granholm), Marcie Rendon and Louise Erdrich.
• Standing notes Thomas and Elizabeth Peacock, entrepreneur sand authors. They own Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing at Fond du Lac. They offer a full line of children’s books that you can order online. He is a member of the Fond du Lac Band Ojibwe; she a member of the Red Cliff Ojibwe, and is a former member of the University of Minnesota Duluth Education Department. (https://blackbearsandblueberries.com.)
• Probably the best known Native owned bookstore in Minnesota, however, is Birchbark Books at 2115 W. 21st St., Minneapolis. It is owned and operated by celebrated author Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Ojibwe). You can get her award winning books there along with books and gift items from other Native writers and artists. (https://birchbarkbooks.com.)
• There are food entrepreneurs scattered throughout Minnesota and their fare stretches well beyond wild rice, bison meat and coffee shops. Among the more widely known enterprises are Red Lake Nation Foods, a tribally-owned company at Redby. (https://redlakenationfoods.com.)
• Twin Cities foodies would recommend Native-owned and operated Pow Wow Grounds Coffee Shop, 1414 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, in front of All My Relations Art Gallery.
• They also praise Owamni (420 1st St. S, Minneapolis) owned and operated by national award winning Sioux Chef Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson (https://www.owmani.com).
• But there is an upstart food company Standing thinks you might want to discover even if you aren’t in Northeast Minnesota. It is Baby Cakes Wild Rice Bakery, located in Fond du Lac, operated by teenager Delilah Savage and her mother Leah Savage. They are accessible through Facebook. A fun feature story on this daughter-mother owned company was published in the Duluth News Tribune (https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/lifestyle/things-we-like-baby-cakes-wild-rice-cupcakes.)
Person Care and Products
Other popular holiday season gifts can be personal care products and gifted trips to salons, spas and other health related venues. These outlets are found throughout Minnesota as well and can be as diverse as Minnesota’s Indigenous communities.
Standing pointed out these diverse enterprises as examples:
• Indigenous Lotus in St. Paul has various health and identify workshops, yoga classes and Native designed clothing. It is owned and operated by Victoria Marie, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate. (https://www.indigenouslotus.com.)
• MN Skin Care Therapy LLC., offers professional beauty, cosmetic and personal care in Golden Valley that can be purchased as a gift certificate. It is owned by Meegwun DesJarlait (Red Lake Ojibwe). (https://www.skintherapyllc.com.)
• And, if you want a smile after reading this tribute to gift providers, consider checking out Megan Schnitker, owner and founder of Lakota Made LLC in Mankato. A Lakota herself from Rosebud and Pine Ridge parentage, she carries a full line of herbal remedies and eco-friendly personal care products. The makeup line is called War Paint. Those products and a newer all natural women’s makeup line can be purchased online or at her storefront, 606 N. Riverfront Dr., Mankato. (https://www.lakotamade.com.)