Story by Kendall Bistretzan
Photos by Quin Hauck
What’s in a name? The name of Alexandra Daignault’s local tea holds plenty of meaning. Sarjesa. While the word is not recognized in the dictionary, to Daignault, it has come to represent the spirits of the women who will walk with her work, yet are not physically present. Sarjesa is more than just a company; the business works to fund violence-prevention programming to women in crisis by selling authentic, respectful, environmentally impactful teas.
Sarjesa came to be in 2015 when Daignault was met with a challenge in her Indigenous Studies class: to create resistance within her everyday experience. She realized that she was already buying products that supported Indigenous communities elsewhere in the world, but nothing that had a direct impact within Calgary. This got Daignault wondering what change she could be capable of.
“What could happen if there was a product that raised awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, but also brought different communities of women into the conversation, and how we can work together to overcome this?” she asks.
Her answer? Sarjesa. The company started as an idea during her studies at Mount Royal University. From there, it progressed slowly but surely into the impactful business it is today. So, what is it that makes Sarjesa different from other teas?
“Almost every Indigenous culture has ways of being connected to the land and to the plants and herbs that are used in teas,” explains Daignault. “And so, it becomes educational from where you can really share the story knowledge through the act of sharing a cup of tea.”
To ensure each batch of tea is made as accurately and ethically as possible, Daignault consults with local elders.
“I think it is the most essential part of this project, and I like building those connections so that we can humanize each other. I work with two elders and we spend a lot of time talking about the land and about the different plants. It’s just wonderful.”
At Sarjesa, tea is about more than throwing together random ingredients; it’s about the story. For example, one of Sarjesa’s teas, City Sidewalks, is based off of plants you can find growing in the sidewalk cracks of Calgary.
Through Sarjesa, Daignault aims to educate non-Indigenous people about important issues within the community.
“So many of the problems we face today come from not talking to each other, and not really taking the time to understand the knowledge, and base it in reciprocity like it is a relationship,” she says. “There is giving on both sides.”
Once the tea has been sold, two dollars from every box goes to violence-prevention programs for women in crisis. Oftentimes, women will return to domestic violence situations or continue to be victimized when they feel that they have nowhere else to turn. By funding these programs, Daignault hopes to empower and support women so that they can thrive, away from abusive situations.
“I truly believe that any sort of solution needs to be community led,” explains Daignault. “There’s been too much damage already by people coming in and trying to fix problems that aren’t really theirs to solve. Everyone wants to stand in solidarity with each other, but we don’t really know how because we have intersecting legacies and experiences.”
Sometimes Daignault feels “like a piece of bubble-gum being stretched and pulled in every direction.” It’s not hard to see why; after all, owning a business while balancing university studies is enough to keep anyone on their toes. But thanks to the help of other local businesses, teachers, and elders, Daignault has learned to flourish.
“Every time I drop off a donation cheque, that feels like a success for me. I feel really fortunate and privileged in that.”
Sarjesa tea can be purchased on their website and at a variety of different locations through the city.