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.

Change it Up!

Change it Up! is a 9-month program that teaches entrepreneurial and business skills. (CBC)

“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.

Angela Roan

Angela Roan used the skills she learned at Change it Up to start her own company - Atoskewin Transport - in October 2013. (CBC)

 “I saw the problem that a lot of people from Maskwacis couldn't get to work off-reserve and there are no jobs on-reserve so what I did was created my own job,” said Angela Roan.

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. 

Erik Lee

Already a confident craftsman, Erik Lee enrolled in the 9-month program to learn practical business skills, which he plans to use to bring work back to his community. (CBC)

“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.”

With files from CBC's Gareth Hampshire