In Ohsweken, Ont., a community located within the Six Nations of the Grand River, you’ll find three of the Brant sisters: twins Dakota and Jesse who run a gold and silver jewelry company called “Sapling & Flint” and big sister Tawnya who, right next door to the twins, runs her own Indigenous-fusion restaurant called “Yawékon.”
“Yawékon just means ‘it’s delicious’ in the Mohawk language,” said Tawnya.
It’s been a year of hard work while capitalizing on opportunity.
Dakota and Jesse began to see their designs sell out in store and online at the same time as securing deals to sell their pieces.
They saw their jewelry featured at museums like the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ont. and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
Meanwhile, Tawnya was selected as one of the contestants on the latest season of Top Chef Canada now airing on Food Network Canada Mondays at 10 p.m. ET.
“You know, as much as you want to win something, I went there with a message right — that I feel Indigenous cuisine does deserve to be on Top Chef Canada. This is our country but our cuisine was underrepresented,” said Tawnya.
The sisters express Haudenosaunee culture through their food and jewelry creations.
“Our motto here at ‘Sapling & Flint’ is ‘conversation pieces that share the story of Turtle Island,’ and as Haudenosaunee women, when we create our products, we’re creating pieces that share a little bit of the story of Canada,” said Dakota.
Popular pieces include sterling silver maple leaf stud earrings, 10k gold lacrosse stick pendants along with custom wedding rings.
Over at Yawékon’s take away counter, the daily menu board will often feature dishes that incorporate game meats and wild rice.
“It gives our community it’s palate back and that’s something we have to develop again because for a lot of people, these foods have been gone for a long time,” said Tawnya.
Jesse, Dakota and Tawnya had grandparents who attended the former Mohawk Institute Residential school — one of Canada’s oldest and longest running residential schools. It still stands today, next door to the Six Nations of the Grand River where the Brant sisters were raised, just 20 minutes from the businesses the siblings own and operate.
“Imagine your child living 20 minutes away but they can’t come home at night,” said Dakota.
Community members regularly refer to the former residential school as the “mush-hole” because in place of meals consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, the children at the Mohawk Institute were served oatmeal or bean “mush” on a daily basis.
“My grandpa Jim was a residential school survivor and he told me that he was beaten severely once because he ate an egg,” said Dakota.
“What’s hard to accept is that in my family, it took exactly one generation to completely loose our language,” said Jesse.
As adults, both Jesse and Dakota committed to learning the language that was lost through the residential school system and they share that language and culture with their young children who attend immersion programs offered within the Six Nations.
“Not a lot of people learn a second or a third language for the purpose of reclaiming something for themselves, its usually because they want to advance into the future. We’re just trying to heal from our past,” said Dakota.
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