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Deanne Hupfield is an Anishinaabe dancer and Indigenous educator whose love for Powwow dancing at a young age inspired her to create her own regalia and teach Powwow dance lessons.Lucy Lu

Deanne Hupfield was 19 years old when she taught her first Powwow dancing class. She and her best friend rented space in a community centre in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., printed flyers and handed them out at the bus terminal.

Hupfield laughs when she tells the story. “Some women showed up and said, ‘Okay, what do we do?’ I said, ‘Just dance behind me,’ because that was how I learned as a child. It wasn’t the best way to teach, and none of the women came back.”

Her first attempt may have been unsuccessful, but in the two decades since, Hupfield has built a thriving business that includes instruction in Powwow dancing and making regalia – the clothing that Indigenous dancers wear during traditional dances. Now based in Toronto, she offers both in-person and virtual courses and has garnered hundreds of thousands of views on her YouTube channel.

Hupfield, who is Anishinaabe, is one of a growing group of dynamic Indigenous entrepreneurs finding success – and personal fulfilment – sharing their cultures with a receptive customer base of Indigenous Peoples across Canada and the United States.

For Hupfield, teaching Powwow dance is a way to share something that helped her through difficult times growing up, including struggling with addiction as a young person. “My mom is Sixties Scoop. My dad is a child of residential school survivors,” she says. “I had a really challenging upbringing, and Powwow dancing helped me endure all the hard stuff that I had to live through as a child and teenager.”

Hupfield says that her courses can sometimes be emotional for attendees.

“People cry in my classes. But it’s not because of me. It’s because of the connection that I’m helping them make,” she says. “It’s humbling. I feel like the work I do will help. It gives my life a lot of purpose.”

Helping her customers feel connected to their culture inspires emotional moments for Janelle Alladina of Indigenize Creation. Alladina, who is Shuswap and is based in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was inspired to create her line of custom-designed hats when she saw that Western stores were branding and stamping cowboy hats with a soldering iron.

“They were doing horseshoes or letters, and I thought, what if I could freehand art onto hats?” she says.

Through trial and error, Alladina found the tools that would enable her to burn her art into felt wool-blend flat-brimmed and cowboy hats, incorporating imagery from nature and traditional Indigenous designs. Her hats can be worn every day, she says, or during special events such as Powwows. (Alladina is also a Powwow dancer). For those sorts of sacred events, she makes “medicine hats” with sweetgrass braids and vials of hand-picked sage.

Selling online and in-person at markets, conferences, rodeos and Powwows, Alladina gets custom orders from all over North America, sometimes incorporating the language, band logos, totems or syllabic writing from other Indigenous Peoples. Although she stresses that her products are for everyone, she says it’s gratifying to help Indigenous people connect with their cultures.

“By being able to express our Indigenous culture on these hats, it’s a way to take back our space,” she says.

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One of Janelle Alladina’s custom hat orders. The customer wanted the design to include eagles, since they have a deep cultural meaning. Many Indigenous Peoples pray to eagles since they believe they fly their prayers to the Creator. Alladina says she also added Cree florals all around the brim of the hat since the customer is Cree.Janelle Alladina

You can also buy Alladina’s pieces online at 4 Generations Creations. The online store sells many clothing, accessories, stickers, crafting and regalia-making supplies and DIY kits for making ribbon skirts and other traditional cultural items. Owner Ashley Michel says it’s important for her to sell the work of other Indigenous business owners on her site and in her bricks-and-mortar store in Kamloops.

“When I’m supporting them, it’s not just supporting a company, but a family,” she says.

Michel, a Secwepemc creator based in Kamloops, B.C., says the business was born in 2013 when she began making regalia for herself and her young daughter to wear at ceremonies, gatherings and Powwows.

“I wanted to create regalia and ribbon skirts for her to wear so that she could grow up in the culture, which is something I didn’t experience to the extent that I wish I could have when I was a child,” she says. “I wanted her to grow up with that positive sense of self identity in being an Indigenous person.”

Michel’s business got a big boost during the COVID-19 pandemic when she created her first Indigenous sticker collection and posted it on TikTok. The post went viral, reaching interested consumers from around the world.

“Things kept blowing up. I kept getting more viral videos,” she says. “It was all just me telling my story as an Indigenous person and Indigenous mother and people were wanting to listen, which was really exciting for me.”

Now, with a following of nearly 169,000 people on TikTok, Michel has developed a massive platform, and was named one of the platform’s Indigenous Visionary Voices in 2023.

“Social media and Indigenous people didn’t really go hand-in-hand a few years back,” she says. “Now there’s like a whole section of Indigenous TikTok where creators are telling their stories, just having fun, sharing knowledge.” The storytelling is introducing Indigeneity to others online, but first and foremost it’s creating community among Indigenous crafters, creators and customers.

Nathan Rainy Chief, a member of the Kanai First Nation in Southern Alberta, also first saw demand for his business through word of mouth online. His enterprise, 49 Dzine, began with a peacoat that his husband, Michael, made for a friend in 2016 and then posted on Facebook.

“Someone saw the post and said, ‘Do you think you can make me one of those?’ And that’s how it snowballed,’” says Rainy Chief.

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The peacoat that launched the idea for Nathan Rainy Chief’s business 49 Dzine.Courtesy of Nathan Rainy Chief

While they initially made everything by hand, they now use a manufacturer, selling Indigenous-designed clothing, hats, footwear and more online and through bricks-and-mortar stores in Calgary and Edmonton.

One of 49 Dzine’s videos includes the line: “Wear your identity.” Rainy Chief says that philosophy is a key part of their design process.

“Everything we’ve put out has a special meaning behind it,” he says. For example, they have clothing and jewellery line inspired by Ledger Art – Indigenous drawings and painting that were made on accounting ledger paper during the era of residential schools. “It’s reminding people that we survived that ordeal and we’re still here and we’re still healing,” he says.

The company has added sewing and craft-making classes, and Rainy Chief says they are hoping to expand and ultimately franchise their brand.

Like Rainy Chief, Michel at 4 Generations is eager to expand her operations. “It would also be nice to have little hubs everywhere where products like mine aren’t as accessible. That’s the goal,” she says.

But while she wants to keep growing, Michel says it’s important for her to keep her business 100 per cent Indigenous-owned and operated.

“I want to employ Indigenous youth and mentor them, so that maybe they can own their own business one day.”

One in a regular series of stories. To read more, visit our Indigenous Enterprises section. If you have suggestions for future stories, reach out to

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