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Amanda Bernard: Helping Small Indigenous Businesses Thrive across Turtle Island

Amanda Bernard: Helping Small Indigenous Businesses Thrive across Turtle Island


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the changemaking leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Amanda Bernard, the founder of Shawish Market. Let’s learn what’s happening at Shawish Market and how Amanda is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Amanda! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Shawish Market?

Amanda: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Shawish Market is a virtual Indigenous marketplace where Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs can create their own shop and upload their own unique items. Unlike other marketplaces, Shawish does not charge monthly or transaction fees, making it affordable for Indigenous communities, especially those who have faced so many barriers such as loss of land, loss of identity, discrimination, and colonization. Also, at Shawish we aim to address the issue of cultural appropriation, as many companies profit from Indigenous-inspired work, often at the expense of local artists. To tackle this problem, Shawish verifies each vendor, ensuring that every purchase made through our website directly benefits Indigenous communities.

Spiffy: What motivates you to tackle this challenge?

Amanda: Having run a small business myself, I encountered numerous hidden costs that were unexpected. I recognized that such hidden fees could also be the death of a small business, particularly for the many talented Indigenous artists who have beautifully crafted designs but whose work remains largely unrecognized by the general public. These artists deserve greater visibility and support, which is why I was motivated to develop software that catered to their needs, and was created by and for Indigenous people.


Spiffy: What is the impact of your work?

Amanda: At Shawish, our mission statement is to help small Indigenous businesses thrive across Turtle Island. The art of Indigenous beading, which can take days to complete a single item, represents a significant investment of time and skill. By removing the pressure to generate large volumes of inventory to cover expenses, our platform allows artists, including beaders, to take necessary breaks, whether for a month or to attend to emergencies, without the stress of meeting financial obligations through constant creation. This change aims to support not only their artistic journey but also their well-being and cultural preservation.

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience/community?

Amanda: Being a MIT Solve Fellow in 2023 allows me to connect with more Indigenous communities and get the support required to grow this platform.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience? 

Amanda: My original last name was Shawish, but when my ancestors were forced to change their names, they decided on Bernard because at that time that was the name of their favorite priest. Therefore, I named the marketplace Shawish to honor my ancestors.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Amanda—it’s been an honor!

Amanda Bernard is a member of the Madawaska Maliseet First Nation and the founder of Shawish Market. Her active engagement extends to board roles with the Philanthropy Canada Foundation (PFC) and Advisory Committee with the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) and Indigenous People Resilience Fund (IPRF). Amanda is deeply committed to supporting Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs by creating a platform that allows them to thrive. (Nominated by Maya Bingaman. First published on the Ladderworks website on March 16, 2024.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.