A unique approach to entrepreneurship in Maskwacis aims to inspire people think creatively and start businesses on the reserve.
The reserve, formerly known as Hobbema, has long struggled with high unemployment and social issues. However, a relatively new program that teaches entrepreneurial and business skills has been a huge success.
In the first two years the course was offered, 28 of the 34 participants who completed the nine-month program are gainfully employed or are running a business, which run the gamut from transportation to jewelry to graphic design.
“That’s kind of unheard of in our community,” said Leiha Crier, who helps run the federally-funded Change it Up! program.
This year was the program’s biggest yet, with 22 students enrolled – which Crier says is very encouraging.
“We have to be the ones that take initiative,” she said. “Business is a real untapped resource in our community and this program has that ability to really make our people more self-sufficient.”
As more people learn the skills it takes to run a successful business, more local jobs will open up, she added.
“We want the success of us being able to build our own economy,” Crier said, adding that building a strong local economy in which people are encouraged to be part of the solution will also help community and family dynamics in Maskwacis.
“I think it has so much potential – our overall economy is going to flourish. I'm excited about this program.”
Graduation success story
Angela Roan and Clint Roan Sr. started their business, Atoskewin Transport, after completing the program in October 2013.
Atoskewin, meaning “work,” is a particularly fitting name for the company, which operates a shuttle service for people living in Maskwacis but who work off-reserve in Edmonton, Leduc and Nisku.
Roan said the program gave her hope after years of believing she would never be able to get ahead.
“We got into the course [for] six months and we realized that entrepreneurs are problem-solvers – and [when] you see a problem, you fix it,” she said.
“So we decided this was probably the best experience we’ve ever been through.”
Growing a business
Erik Lee signed up for this year’s program hoping to learn how he could expand his silversmith business.
While already an accomplished craftsman, Lee said he needed the practical business training the course offered to take his company to the next level.
“I am just gaining a real skill set in how business works and also there’s a lot of creative thinking that we’ve been working on,” he said of the program.
“It really helps you to focus on your own imagination and your own imagery.”
Once he graduates, Lee is planning to invest the efforts of all his training back into Maskwacis.
“I want to work for myself and I want to work in my community and with my community, and down the road, employ people in my community,” he said.
“I think a lot of the time our resources go out of the community ... For me, it’s really all about creating a vibrant economy – a local economy – and bringing business skills and business back to our community.”