Jennifer Harper was inspired to start her own cosmetics company after having a dream about young Native girls with rosy cheeks and glossy lips. She left her career as a sales professional and launched Cheekbone beauty in 2016. Today, Cheekbone Beauty sells lip products, eyebrow products, and of course contour palettes. All the product names have Indigenous roots. Some of the products are named after Indigenous women while others are named after words in Indigenous languages. Harper’s mission is to use her company as a platform to empower indigenous youth. To support Indigenous youth, a portion of her company’s proceeds go to the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society.
Harper has faced many hardships that have made her who she is today. Before Cheekbone Beauty, Harper struggled with an alcohol addiction and a family death during the early stages of her company. Harper did not grow among her First Nations community and didn’t know about the effects the residential school system had on her family until her mid-thirties. Residential schools were set up by the Canadian government to assimilate Indigenous youth into Canadian society. The children were separated from their homes and taught to forget their Indigenous culture and traditions. Harper’s grandmother was a residential school survivor, learning about her experience helped her in her healing process. Learning about the trauma residential schools caused her family and other Indigenous people further helped her understand who she is. One of her goals is to educate Canadians on the impact of the residential school system on the First Nations people. Here she gives tips on how others can support the Indigenous community.
1) Learn The History and Culture
“Find out what groups of people or tribes lived on that land you live on long before you did. Chances are there were Indigenous people who used to live there. A lot of our history is passed down orally so we would really have to connect with people in your own area. If you’re going to buy books on Indigenous people, figure out who’s written those stories. We have to stop reading stories about Indigenous people by people who aren’t Indigenous.”
2) Understand The Effects of the Residential School System
Use empathy to understand that residential schools traumatized the Indigenous people.
“One reason that I stayed an alcoholic was because I was so ashamed to admit I had a problem. I didn’t want to just be another stereotype. I’m really open about alcoholism and addiction because it’s not just an Indigenous disease. Addiction and even violence are symptoms of the original trauma which are residential schools,” says Harper.
When learning about Indigenous people try to dig deeper and understand the initial reason why issues like addiction, violence, substance abuse, and suicide exist among Indigenous people.
3) Recognize How the Indigenous People are Being Treated
Many of these issues still exist because our systems are broken. “For instance, we live in a country where we all have access to clean water, but they’re Indigenous people who do not. They are about 140 First Nation communities that have no clean drinking water and it’s 2020. There’s still no adequate education so what does this tell the First Nations people? The message is still loud and clear and that is that they don’t matter. It’s very important for outsiders or non-Indigenous people to see, how that group of people are still being treated.”
4) Help Empower Indigenous Youth
“Think bigger, we all know putting money on a problem is not the solution. You want to be apart of empowering which means helping them grow. Help them foster their own skills and abilities to go on and do amazing things in the world. Figure out what your skillset is and offer a free course or advice in what you excel in. Transferring a skill set is far more valuable than putting dollars on a project. That’s why we’re really clear about our donations, we know that it won’t solve any big problems, it honestly won’t. It’s just a way to create awareness, right? What’s really going to work is when we give tools and create tools and opportunities for Indigenous kids they might not have because of unequal funding.”
5) Support Indigenous Businesses and Share Their Success Stories
“If you’re looking to support Indigenous businesses make sure it’s truly owned by Indigenous people. Make sure it’s authentically Indigenous and not cultural appropriation because that happens a lot. Especially now with the digital space, there’s a lot of businesses that appear to be completely Indigenous but if you dig a little bit deeper there actually not.
It’s connecting and supporting through small businesses. If you get involved with Indigenous people in your local community, meaning not only supporting their businesses but then talking about them, highlighting them, sharing their stories that which then again helps and supports their community.”