Beandigen: A cafe hub for Indigenous artists

Located at Ottawa’s TD Place, Beandigen is a mother-and-daughter Indigenous cafe and a hub for Indigenous artists selling their work. Neatly displayed in the storefront are beaded jewelry, textiles, clothing and branding items of the cafe.

Jade Naponse, 28, from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, located near Sudbury, is a beader who works as a barista and owns the mother-and-daughter cafe.

“Me and my mom had this idea for a long time in terms of having a storefront for her goods and products and also my beadwork,” says Naponse.

On Nov. 12, 2021, the cafe was supposed to be a six-month pop-up company, but it celebrated its first year of business and will continue to operate until the end of 2023.

Like many other shops in the province, Beandigen had its share of difficulties during COVID-19.

“In January 2022, there was a lockdown — we couldn’t have anyone in the store to sit and have a coffee, which was difficult. This was three months into starting up,” Naponse says. “After that, in February, Ottawa was overrun with convoy supporters, another big pitfall.”

Naponse says those two were the most significant challenges the company has faced, though eventually it became easier. However, working in a small family company brings challenges.

In Naponse’s past, she worked in cafes and restaurants in Ottawa, but co-workers tended not to be family members. Because Beandigen is a family-owned cafe, there are challenges, she says.

“I was gonna have to deal with my mother also, like starting a business with your mother can be really difficult,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of conversations between each other to say, well, what are your responsibilities? What are my responsibilities? Let’s respect each other and what we can do for the business.”

Naponse says it’s been an interesting experience to operate the cafe, but it came with opportunities, such as being recognized as one of the only Indigenous restaurant-like businesses in Ottawa. She also says there are many different organizations around the city having meetings and conferences where they need coffee and pastries, which has worked to their advantage.

“We’re making money and paying rent every month. I’m getting paid. My mom’s getting paid. So like, that’s all happening, but what I want to see happen with the cafe is I want it to be a means of success, not only for us as a business but also all the artists, all the companies and businesses we support and work with,” she says.

With many Indigenous students in Ottawa, one of the things Beandigen focuses on is creating a community of Indigenous youth.

She says that because she has lived in Ottawa for the past ten years and it was difficult for her to find a place to hang out that was Indigenous-owned.

“We wanted to make sure that Indigenous students had a place to go out and grab a coffee and study or come up to the beadwork circle and hang out and be with other Indigenous people in Ottawa,” she says. “That was one of the important things that we wanted to make sure that Indigenous youth in Ottawa felt really comfortable here. Because I dealt with that struggle.”


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