Jenn Harper, founder of the indigenous women’s social enterprise ‘Cheekbone Beauty’, poses for a photo in Toronto, Canada on 16 January 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Belinda Goldsmith
TORONTO, – When Jenn Harper dreamed of a young native Canadian girl in lip gloss she knew she had found a way to help her community.
The dream in 2015 prompted her to set up Cheekbone Beauty from her kitchen, a cosmetics brand with products named after successful North American indigenous women that gives 10% of profits to a fund to help educate children on reserves.
Harper is one of a rising number of indigenous women in Canada setting up businesses that aim to have a positive social impact, with many focused on aboriginal women who have faced shocking levels of violence for decades.
She said she set out to build a social enterprise that would inspire aboriginal youth, particularly girls, among whom suicide rates are up to six times higher than non-indigenous youth.
“I am using lipstick as a platform to raise awareness about what is still happening to indigenous young people,” Harper, 43, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview, wearing a hot pink lipstick from her Warrior Women range.
“We want to change indigenous youth by showing them they are worthy and (should) not feel shame about their history.”
Harper said her drive was personal. Her grandmother Emily Paul was one of about 150,000 indigenous children taken from their families between the 1840s and 1990s and put in residential schools to assimilate them in Euro-Canadian culture.
She described how her family, like many others, had never dealt with the impact of the government policy that ripped apart families, causing addiction and abuse issues, which in turn led to trans-generational trauma.
Harper said she ended up battling alcohol problems for years until she finally became sober in 2014. Her brother killed himself at the age of 32 about four years ago.
HOPE FOR YOUTH
She said her brother’s support for her setting up a business to provide hope to indigenous youth gave her to courage to quit her job in sales last year to focus on Cheekbone Beauty that she runs from a home office, ensuring all products are Eco-friendly.
Last year she appeared on “Dragon’s Den”, the national TV show where entrepreneurs pitch to investors, and in 2018 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited her to join a round table of female entrepreneurs.
“Getting sober and setting up my business I realised how important it was to share my story with other indigenous women and help others transform,” said Harper, a mother of two from St Catharines in the Niagara region of the province of Ontario.