With Starr Merrie Native Gifts, Eliza Skenandore looks to celebrate Oneida culture

Eliza Skenandore with son Hawi at the Arts + Literature Lab Native Arts Market in Madison. Photo courtesy Eliza Skenandore.
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It’s all about the culture as artist, entrepreneur and educator Eliza Skenandore sees her business grow to new heights.

Skenandore is the co-owner of Starr Merrie Native Gifts, a company that creates Native beadwork and Iroquois raised beadwork, art, clothing and provides educational opportunities. The business is a family venture with her husband Shawn and son Hawi as the family pushes to express and educate on the traditions and way of life of Oneida culture.

Skenandore got her start in expressing her identity when her parents moved from Arizona to Wisconsin to help her better connect with her heritage. She went through the Oneida School System where she learned more about the language and culture — but it was not until she interned at the Oneida Nation Museum that the culture started to bud into her passion.

“I got to hold all the artifacts and move all the collection, and I got to touch all these beautiful art pieces,” Skenandore said. “And that’s where I fell in love with the raised beadwork.”

Her newfound love bloomed into her wanting to be creative. Skenandore was already studying animation at the time of her internship but experiencing the history drove her to pivot. She went on to start her own business, Starr Merrie, to create and express her identity and celebrate Oneida culture.

Starr Merrie was founded 13 years ago. Skenandore started off using polymer clay to make charms, greeting cards, finger weaving and a bit of bead work — but that soon expanded. The business moved into craft shows and pushed into a higher focus of cultural work with educational opportunities.

“I feel like it’s a way for me to share my passion with others and be able to kind of give back to the community,” Skenandore said. “Some of the things that I do now is I actually give cultural presentations, whether that’s at schools or libraries.”

Eliza Skenandore pitching her business at the Wisconsin Native Business Plan Pitch Contest at the Menominee Casino and Resort. Photo courtesy Eliza Skenandore.

As her interests continued to grow, so did the business. Skenandore went back to school to take some entrepreneurship and marketing courses to better run her business. She later won a pitch competition and earned a space to run her business from Northern Wisconsin Technical College’s Startup Hub for a year.

“That’s where it really took off,” Skenandre said. “We were able to move the business out of the home. It really helps you focus when it’s not just kind of within the home. Having that extra separate space really helped me a lot in restructuring Starr Merrie.”

The space allowed Skenandore to pivot her business a bit more. Her goals now lie in creating large pieces of art, like a full regalia set of traditional Oneida garb, and to open her own brick-and-mortar store within the next five years.

Her son Hawi is also involved too. Hawi makes his own stuff for the store, like a medical salve he handpicked the herbs for, and gets lessons on Oneida culture and entrepreneurship.

“We homeschool our son, and through his homeschooling we have created him an entrepreneurship class. So I’m taking what I learned from NWTC and I’m putting it in my son’s education,” Skenandore said.

But she is not stopping at the business. Skenandore recently achieved one of her goals by becoming a Seed Grant Artist. The program, Planting Seeds of Knowledge from the Oneida Nation, has been a goal of hers for the past five years.

As one of the artists, Skenandore will be able to go to schools to give presentations on Oneida culture and be an artist in residence at institutions that request her.