Casey Desjarlais

Decolonial and Entrepreneurial: Casey Desjarlais' Adventures in Business and Becoming

“I never thought I would be an entrepreneur at first. I didn't even know what the word meant,” Casey Desjarlais laughed. She didn’t have a plan for what she wanted to do or who she wanted to be when she was older, but she has found a way. Originally from Treaty four and Treaty six territories in Southeast Saskatchewan, now residing in Vancouver, Casey Desjarlais started a clothing line called Decolonial Clothing Co (originally 30604 Apparel) with her partner, Dakota Bear, in 2016. 

“I'm just open to whatever opportunities are out there. I'm leaving myself open and receptive to any possibilities right now.”

Inspired by her partner who has always been an entrepreneur, Desjarlais enjoys the flexible schedule business ownership allows. "I'm kind of like a free spirit.  I can't be stapled down," she explained. She also dances powwow and speaks at events to bring in an income for herself. 

Before starting her business, Desjarlais went to the University of Saskatchewan. She went there straight out of high school with no clear plan, at the encouragement of her mom and kokum. For a year, she took random classes but didn’t take it seriously. She moved to Vancouver and eventually enrolled in Native Education Centre’s Indigenous Justice Studies program. She found the Indigenous studies more interesting, relevant and relatable. 

“I'm on my healing journey. I have been in a process of decolonizing my mind, body and spirit and reverting back to my traditional ways, and our practices in our culture. But I still continue to battle with anxiety and I continue to battle with self-doubt.” 

As she struggles with that self-doubt and questions like “Am I good enough to do this? Am I capable?” Desjarlais is learning how to talk about her feelings more, journal about them and spend time smudging and talking to family. If she could tell younger self anything it would be to listen to her parents and spend more time with family. She reflected on her kokum who’s in the spirit world and said, “I wish I could have known how important the time that we spent together. She was a fluent language speaker, so I could have been learning my own language and listening to her stories. Spend more time with your elders because you never know what's gonna happen. Life can take a turn.”

“Find a way to give back to your community and create other opportunities for your community members there. The reason you left your community was to seek more opportunity. Try to bring that back to your community so people don't have to leave so often.”

Between starting a clothing line and going back to school, Desjarlais has been having adventures since moving away from home. Her advice to youth considering leaving their communities is simple: always remember where you come from. She suggests staying grounded where you are through ceremony and keeping in touch with family. “Continue practicing your traditions and being who you are. Never try to change who you are to fit your environment. Just always stay true to yourself,” she recommends. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Desjarlais gets through hard times by giving thanks and praying for clarity. Since the beginning of the pandemic she’s been dealing with her anxiety by trying to gain perspective about what larger lesson the Creator has for her. “What is this doing for me? How am I growing from this situation?” she asks herself. “It's been helping me get closer with my family,  go inward and self-reflect. There's always something that you can learn from in different situations,” she continued. 

While she didn’t plan to be an entrepreneur and didn’t really know what one way, the wisdom she has gained along the way has made her a role model for Indigenous youth. Studying and practicing her traditions while building a life with her partner, Desjarlais is grounded in who she is and what matters to her. From treaty 4 and 6 territories to what’s now known as Vancouver, BC, she’s learning about her traditions and following the Creator’s path for her wherever it leads. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford for authoring this article.

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