Semi-Finalist Spotlight on Dayna Elija, Spirit Earth Holistics
Meet Dayna Elija, Founder of Spirit Earth Holistics Inc. from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. Dayna is a Pow Wow Pitch Ontario Semi-Finalist. We sat down with Dayna to learn more about her, her business and her reflections on entrepreneurship.
PWP: Dayna, what motivated and inspired you to start your business?
DE: I started my healing journey 20 years ago, and at that time, I reconnected with my identity as a Unkwehuwe through language, ceremony and teachings.
I quickly found my passion for plants and nature and wanted a career that would be authentic to my true nature as a Haudenosaunee woman.
Creating body care and wellness products is healing and medicine for me and those who enjoy my products.
I love hearing my nieces and nephews from Oneida say, “Hey auntie, I saw your soap all over cottage country, and it’s in the mall even.” They call it our own Oneida swag!
I would say that’s all the motivation I need to keep it going.
PWP: Can you tell me more about Spirit Earth Holistics?
DE: We handcraft bath, body and wellness products such as true old-fashioned soaps, bath salts, oils, facial care products, shampoos, deodorants, aromatherapy, wildcraft medicinal teas and herbs, lip and skin ointments, sunscreen, bath bombs and more.
All of our products are Unkwehuwe inspired and infused, crafted on-site from a place of the heart.
Thanks to the pow wow trail, we have hundreds of repeat customers, and we supply shops from Miami, Florida, all the way to the East Coast. Indian country loves us.
We have maintained four full-time staff throughout the pandemic, and in peak times, like Summer and Christmas, we grow to a team of 12 full-time employees.
Today, we are ten years into the growth of our business and are one of the leading Indigenous Soap and Bath companies on Turtle Island. We wholesale our products to 35 retail stories and have three private label accounts, whereby we produce products for other companies.
After ten years of researching, experiencing and learning from past obstacles and barriers, we are ready for the next step.
We want to enter the mainstream on a much larger scale, focusing on wholesale and distribution. We feel that and this is our time!
PWP: Congratulations on everything your business success and impact so far!
What has been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?
DE: Meeting new family and inspiring people to reconnect to nature has been my most significant rewards.
My company has been an incredible platform to channel love and energy and raise awareness by providing educational workshops and teaching.
I am so proud of our team. We would never have lasted for ten years alone. We have strategized, endured, prayed and overcome together. Through and through our company is ‘Spirit Earth’ – it is more than a company, it is a medicine.
PWP: What has been the most challenging part about being an entrepreneur?
DE: Managing a team can be challenging, and it has been something I have had to grow into. I am so grateful that my life partner, Glen McDougall, has supported me at every turn as we use traditional teachings and values to ground our work and to make decisions.
It has also been a challenge to be recognized as legitimate by banks, mainstream organizations, and mainstream businesses. We operate on Reserve, so many professionals we meet want to move us off ‘the rez’ to be successful.
Operating on the Reserve limits access to capital. I feel we have to work ten times harder than a mainstream company. But that doesn’t stop us. Even if it takes us a little bit longer, we still get there. Overall, I feel that all we have endured has made us stronger.
We are cut from the cloth of our ancestors. We are survivors, and the ones before us set the bar high, and we intend to deliver.
We have been approached twice to sell our company and once to sell our oils for a large brand. But we stand to protect our work; as we all know too well, cultural appropriation is real, and it’s happening all around us.
Spirit Earth was born with a responsibility, and we will always honour that. We won’t sell and won’t move off Reserve. We will bring the opportunity home for the People no matter how long it takes.
PWP: Dayna, thank you for sharing this with us. We are so proud of you.
Why did you choose to apply for Pow Wow Pitch?
DE: I remember Pow Wow Pitch’s first year. I was attending the Summer Solstice pow wow selling my soap. I went up there on a whim and did a one-minute pitch, totally unprepared. We were only about three years into my business at the time. The judge’s panel came to visit my booth after and said they couldn’t choose me because I was already in operation for startups. But they said I had one of the best pitches, and they wanted to let me know.
This year I received an email inviting me to submit. So I did. And I am happy about it. We are gaining so much insight being a part of this year’s Pow Wow Pitch, and it just so happens Spirit Earth is ready for a considerable expansion; the timing is perfect. Winning this pitch would help us fund our new marketing outfit and launch our strategy.
Seeing more than 1,600 contenders has been really inspiring. One path to Indigenous resiliency and sovereignty is Indigenous business. It’s the uprising of the people.
Through Pow Wow Pitch, I was matched with two mentors. Jackie Reynolds from Square helped me improve my pitch and expressed the importance of sharing future projections. Dion Farentino from RBC helped me to understand that sharing our community impacts was equally important.
PWP: What advice do you have for Indigenous people thinking of starting up a business?
DE: Indigenous concepts, understandings and values are the core of who we are. It’s our identity and birthright.
As a Unkwehuwe matriarch, I have chosen not to compromise that on any level. So our approaches and understandings are rooted in the teachings. It’s how we problem-solve. It’s how we initiate goals. It’s how we collaborate and design products.
Indigenous knowledge, wisdom and philosophy are truly integrated at every level from employee standards, right to the final product.
Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s how you learn and adapt. Don’t be afraid to start again, even if it seems like it’s from scratch. The most successful businesses had the largest pitfalls, and their comebacks were powerful.
There are still many adversities and barriers in the mainstream for us Indigenous folk, so use your platform to make teachable moments and create allies.
Stand in Indigenous resilience and make a scene!
PWP: Thank you for chatting with us, Dayna! Good luck with the Semi-Finals.
You can support Dayna to reach the Pow Wow Pitch Finals by voting for her for the People’s Choice Prize. Click here to vote for Dayna. You can also watch Dayna Pitch at the Ontario Semi-Finals Live on September 22, 2021, at 6 PM ET Click here to register to watch.