Paula Naponse was born and raised in the Ojibway community of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, a First Nation village in northern Ontario. True to her Indigenous culture, Paula has strong ties to the land and her people, and she continues to nurture her love for Atikameksheng while making her new home in Ottawa.
Her business, Ondarez Clothing and Goods, speaks to that deep connection to her origins, with the name Ondarez stemming from community members affectionately referring to their home being “on the rez.” But it means so much more than that to Paula.
“It shows pride in where I come from – the land, the people, the family, the community.”
Paula’s business is a testament to her entrepreneurial spirit – and the resilience of the Ojibway people. She makes everything she sells by hand, and the techniques are all self-taught, including sewing, regalia, beadwork, candle making and silk screening.
Paula’s been passionate about creating for most of her life, proudly recalling the satisfaction she felt after making her first pair of shorts in her grade 8 Home Economics class. She finds a great sense of accomplishment in her ability to create something from start to finish, and it’s what customers appreciate most about Ondarez: the products are made locally by hand.
The Ojibway youth are some of the most appreciative, as the business name resonates with the local pop culture surrounding the phrase “on the rez.” And Paula’s late husband, her biggest supporter, was quick to remind her of this admiration, especially during her periods of self-doubt and when facing adversity.
“‘Those young people hear you saying Ondarez,’ he would say, ‘Those young people appreciate that term.’”
He saw potential in Paula and believed Ondarez Clothing and Goods could really be something. He was always willing to spread the word and help out at various gatherings; he encouraged her to keep going and to never quit.
Tragedy struck in 2018, when a car accident claimed the life of Paula’s husband. It made her question whether or not she could continue with the business. But his words of encouragement offered guidance when she needed it most, and the sorrow of his loss brought a deeper sense of meaning to Ondarez.
To honour his memory, Paula added candles to her product line. The Anishinaabe Ojibway people use fire for healing, as it represents light and love. For Paula, the candles symbolize her love for her husband and her culture. She also started working with a local roaster in Gatineau to include three blends of Ondarez coffee.
- Coffee with My Aunties—a tribute to her mom who enjoyed getting together with Paula’s aunts to catch up over a cup of coffee.
- On the Land—a bold dark roast symbolic of the strength she gathers from her land and nature.
- Pow Wow Love—a dedication to the love shared during an Indigenous Pow Wow and another way of honouring her husband, whom she met during one such gathering.
From humble beginnings to a household name
Paula launched Ondarez Clothing and Goods in 2008, making t-shirts and sweatshirts out of a small room in her house. As her goods gained popularity, she moved on from her tiny workshop, purchased higher quality inks and acquired more equipment – all while expanding her products and skills as an entrepreneur.
Now, as a mother of four, Paula’s passion to keep going is stronger than ever. She draws motivation from those who enjoy Indigenous-made goods. She also finds strength in the proud First Nation community members she’s met and continues to meet.
“I love seeing people being proud of who they are. I always want to be proud of where I come from and have people be proud of who they are, no matter where they come from.”
Paula’s positive mindset and her desire to enhance the Atikameksheng community eventually led her to the Indigenous Tourism Entrepreneurship Training (ITET) program offered through Algonquin College and Ottawa Tourism.
This 10-week program provided practical learnings, business fundamentals and tourism industry advice to assist new and experienced Indigenous entrepreneurs as they create or expand their experiential tourism businesses.
For Paula, Ondarez isn’t about educating non-Indigenous people about Ojibway people: it’s an expression of passion for her community and the culture of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. And while the ITET program helped her gain confidence as an entrepreneur, it also gave her the opportunity to meet other Indigenous entrepreneurs and enabled them to work together to make their communities stronger.
Moving forward, Paula plans to tap into the tourism community to expand the consumer base of Ondarez Clothing and Goods. Being located in an important hub of the industry, she recognizes that as a member of Ottawa Tourism she has the opportunity to reach a larger audience.
Paula’s goal is to grow her business to the point where she can employ other First Nations people. Her hope is that Ondarez will become a household name recognized as a go-to business for quality, authentic Indigenous products.
This article was written for the Indigenous Tourism Entrepreneurship Training (ITET) project developed by Ottawa Tourism and Algonquin College, made possible through funding from the Government of Canada. To learn more about ITET please visit www.storytotell.ca.