We love our members, so every month we feature one of them on the site and in the newsletter. This month, our featured member is Paula Naponse (@paula_naponse), who is Ojibway and Anishinaabek from the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation and makes and sells a range of products including Positively Indigenous Affirmation cards and scented wood-wick candles as well as co-running (with her daughter) the Ottawa coffee shop Beandigen. Here, Paula gamely answers all our questions about her work and her life.

(P.S., not a member yet? What are you waiting for?)

Editor’s note: While all products and services we feature in this story are independently selected, some items use affiliate links. This means that if you click these links and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. You can find out more in our privacy policy.

Workshop: Describe your business in 10 words or less.

Paula Naponse: Indigenous-owned products for living the good life.

A card stating "I can create beautiful things" on a floral fabric background
Photo courtesy Paula Naponse

W: What was the first product you sold?

PN: T-shirts, sweatshirts and clothing with my designs on them. First a logo that I created then also floral designs, symbols that come from Anishinaabek — a lot of it nature inspired, like the land, trees and leaves.

W: What’s your latest innovation?

PN: I came up with a line of wood-wick candles scented with sweetgrass, cedar and maple syrup. The reason I use a wooden wick is because it crackles. It is a little fire. As First Nations people, like anybody, we use fire for light and for cooking. But we also use it for ceremony. It's our connection to the spirit world and our ancestors. With that wood wick, when we're not in a place where we can have a fire, we can have that candle. One of the main reasons I wanted to make wood-wick candles is so those of us who live in cities can have access to fire. We can pray with it or have ceremony with it in our homes.

Candles and mugs on a table, in a craft fair display
Photo courtesy Paula Naponse

I'm a sewer, too, and I’m making these wall hangings. I do all my silk-screening myself: I make the design, I put it on the screen and then I print it. I had these screened panels that I was going to make tea towels with, but I didn't like them. So I made them into wall hangings for the home. That's my latest.

W: What’s something you’ve done in the past year that you’re proud of?

PN: Our café has only been open for a year and a half. It's called Beandigen. For me as a First Nations woman, to open something so large in a big city is a big accomplishment, because we don't necessarily see ourselves in places like this. In smaller towns we have businesses, but in big cities you don't see a lot of businesses that are Indigenous-owned.

W: What’s something new that you’ve learned lately?

PN: Taking control of my finances: knowing how the money's coming in, where it's going out and where we can make changes. Also working with outside professionals like an accountant, not just me trying to figure it out.

W: What’s the most recent thing you’ve bought from another Canadian maker?

PN: One recent thing I bought was fabric created by another First Nations woman. I bought probably 20 metres of her different designs. Her name is Shannon Gustafson and she's out of Thunder Bay. She also does beautiful beadwork.

W: Describe your dream studio.

PN: Right now I'm in a basement and I don't even go down there, because I don't like it. There's light, but it's just not for me right now. So my ideal is to have a room on the main floor with lots of windows, natural light, all white. It doesn't have to be huge, but big enough so I can have different stations, and with a big making table right in the middle that's counter height. And nice plants. Even a little couch or seating area where I can read a book and have my drinks or coffee or whatever, and have that space that has all my beautiful things, my beautiful fabric, my beautiful beads, everything that I do.

W: What’s one book, movie, TV show, magazine, podcast or album that you’re loving right now?

PN: I'm going through a lot of different things right now, but I just watched a show called The Good Place. It's all about the afterlife, and it makes me think about how the world and the universe are bigger than us.