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Alberta Indigenous artisans selected to participate in trade mission to Tokyo

Three First Nation entrepreneurs from Alberta will join others from across Canada to showcase their art and culture in Japan in July.

First Nation entrepreneurs will join others from across Canada to showcase art and culture in Japan

Faith Starlight, left, and Melrene Saloy-Eaglespeaker, right, are two Alberta entrepreneurs and artisans that will head to Tokyo to showcase their work this summer. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Three First Nation entrepreneurs from Alberta will join others from across Canada to showcase their art and culture in Japan in July.

Founded by two First Nations members in Saskatchewan, Indig Inc. is an online marketplace for Indigenous artisans and buyers.

The company partnered with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, which helps companies navigate international markets, to select 38 indigenous artisans, dancers, media reps and others to participate in a trade mission to Tokyo.

The entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to showcase First Nations culture and promote their products.

Among those selected are three Indigenous entrepreneurs from Southern Alberta who are preparing for the July trip.

Kainai Nation member Melrene Saloy-Eaglespeaker is one of them.

She started her small business four years ago — Native Diva Creations — which sells authentic First Nation beaded jewellery and accessories.

The entrepreneurs will showcase local products, like these earrings from Melrene Saloy-Eaglespeaker's business. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

"I wanted to take my business to a whole other stream, I thought international, why not," Saloy-Eaglespeaker said.

Hundreds of artisans across Canada applied for the opportunity.

"I was excited, I kind of jumped for joy, kind of jumping out of my skin. I thought it was amazing, of all people to be selected out of how many applied," she said.

The Kainai member said artisans will have the opportunity to sell, showcase and promote their products through a fashion show, gala and market in Japan.

"I hope to bring back to the youth in my community … my experience and pass it down what they can do and that they can do the same thing."

Faith Starlight's business Powwow Styles specializes in authentic First Nation jewellery. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Faith Starlight is the designer and owner of Powwow Styles. She started her business in 2012.

Starlight specializes in authentic First Nation jewellery, clothing, and traditional arts and crafts.

The Whitefish Lake First Nation member said she applied for the vendor position because she didn't want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It'll be her first trip abroad.

It's definitely an honor to be working with all these fantastic delegates and artisans.-Heather Abbey, CEO of Indig Inc.

"I am very honoured, humbled and excited," Starlight said.

She credits social media for her business success.

"That's been really the shape of my business," said Starlight.

The artisan encouraged other Indigenous entrepreneurs not to let opportunities like this pass them by and to keep trying.

Heather Abbey, of Little Pine First Nation, is the CEO and co-founder of Indig Inc. She said she wanted to do something that was built from the ground up that would benefit the artists.

"It's a really exciting time for us and it's definitely an honor to be working with all these fantastic delegates and artisans," said Abbey.

Heather Abbey, is the co-founder of Indig Inc. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

The Cree businesswoman was the recipient of the 2016 National Indigenous Entrepreneur of the year award and placed in 15 business competitions to start her company.

"It's a really exciting one-week long project, where we showcase and highlight not only the beauty of Indigenous culture  but also where we promote the personal and professional brands of our delegates — so that includes some fantastic delegates from Alberta," she said.

The three southern Alberta artisans hosted a "Natives in Tokyo" fashion show fundraiser Friday night to help cover the costs of their trip.

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