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When Sarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe) goes on a run, there’s parts she hates and parts that are transformative. Step by step, she pushes forward on beloved land – sometimes for a whopping 31 miles! – doing what she calls “practicing hardship and endurance.” Sarah’s entrepreneurial spirit has that same grit.
Along with being a long-distance runner (she organizes an Indigenous Women’s running group called KwePack), Sarah is a renowned artist, founder and owner of Heart Berry on the Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota, an Eighth Generation Inspired Natives Project Collaborator, published poet, educator, speaker and a mother.
Since becoming an Inspired Natives Collaborator in 2014, the Eighth Generation team has helped Sarah turn her traditional Ojibwe designs into 20+ products, ranging from blankets to jewelry and accessories. Most recently, Sarah created a new design specifically for Eighth Generation’s collection of Native-made wool textiles! Based on Ojibwe loom designs, Sarah’s “Crossings” Scarf merges tradition and technology in beautiful red and beige yarns.
Sarah was sewing, beading and determined to sell her art ten years before meeting Eighth Generation Founder and CEO Louie Gong. “I was that girl walking around with the bead work and selling out of my Honda Civic in busy parking lots,” Sarah says.
Originally operating as “House of Howes” – her one-woman custom beadwork and regalia business based in her kitchen – Sarah later rebranded to Heart Berry, shifting the focus away from her and onto the brand’s goals like community care.
“Heart Berry (the Ode'imin) has always felt right,” Sarah says. “I use the heart berry all across my art, with running and throughout my life. It’s all about the story of the heart.”
In the past year, Heart Berry has employed other women and built a work facility. Sarah’s go-getter attitude has propelled her since childhood – you’d often find her conducting lemonade stands, walking people’s dogs or delivering newspapers to save up money. With Heart Berry and her Eighth Generation collaborations, she pursues an additional currency: respect from her community.
In fact, when Duluth Pack welcomed a visit by Ivanka Trump and other top federal officials in July 2020, Heart Berry took a stand against the canvas and leather bag company. Heart Berry shared concerns about the administration’s deployment of federal agents into communities during peaceful protests, as well as actions against the environment. Heart Berry had recently created custom bags with Duluth Pack but, in ending their collaboration, donated all remaining bags to Life House, a facility that provides support for homeless and transitioning youth. Watch Heart Berry’s official statement below:
The day after Heart Berry’s Duluth Pack decision, an elder from down the road stopped by Sarah’s house to thank her. “My girl, my girl,” the woman said. “I’m so proud of you!” Sarah notes this moment as one of the times where she truly felt validation and success.
“This is the kind of thing where I realize I can still do this business and align with the values important to me and the people in my community,” Sarah says. “Heart Berry is a business but also a way of life.”
Sarah’s success helps show her children what is possible. Though she acknowledges her entrepreneurial path as back and forth thoughts of I suck and I’m awesome, her kids believe in more opportunities than Sarah ever did at their age.
“My children aren’t just growing up on the Rez but growing up knowing who they are, with intention and culture,” Sarah says. “My daughter once said she wants to be an author and I encourage her to pursue dreams like that. I had to seek this all out – for them it’s more normal.”
Everything Sarah bought for her growing business began with an $800 Cobell settlement payment along with years of dedication, hard work and wise investments. She says she’s still rolling this money over and making it mean something.
“All we can do in this life is take the seed and grow it,” Sarah says, trailblazing ahead. “I’m not done learning yet.”