First Nations teen entrepreneur feels the sting of Canada-U.S. trade war

A young Manitoba entrepreneur is the latest casualty in the trade war between Canada and the United States.

High tariffs force maker of traditional jingles for powwow dresses to look for another steel supplier

Émilie McKinney was having great success with her business until new steel tariffs kicked in, sending her on a search for a new supplier. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A young Manitoba entrepreneur is the latest casualty in the trade war between Canada and the United States.

Émilie McKinney, a band member from Swan Lake First Nation, manufactures jingles for traditional First Nations powwow dresses. Since starting up her company — which she named Anishinaabe Bimishimo, Ojibway for "the people that dance" — at the tender age of 17 late last year, she says business has been booming.

"We made $25,000 of sales last month," McKinney told CBC on Thursday. "From right off the bat, we've been getting a lot of attention and a lot of support from across Canada and the States."

Unfortunately for McKinney, support from the United States hasn't included President Donald Trump.

The bombastic leader's "buy American" rhetoric and protectionist policies helped touch off a trade war with Canada, which escalated last week when the Liberal government imposed retaliatory tariffs of 25 per cent on American steel entering the country.

The new tariffs have had a big impact on McKinney's supply chain. Wanting her jingles to produce the perfect sound, she said she spent six months researching steel suppliers before finding one in Chicago that fit the bill. 

But that all changed last week.

McKinney spent six months researching suppliers for the steel that forms her jingle cones. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

"We were about to reorder and then overnight, the prices went from $30,000 to $45,000 because of the tariffs," she said. "There's been rumours that they're going to up the price even more, which is kind of scary because I'm just starting out a business here."

Rather than passing the price increase on to her customers, McKinney said she's been looking for other suppliers. And although the idea of sourcing materials for an authentic product outside of North America doesn't sit well with her, she knows her hand might be forced.

"If worst comes to worst, we might have to get our metal from Taiwan."

See how Émilie McKinney became an entrepreneur at 17:

A Manitoba teen's retail frustration has turned into a new business

5 years ago
Duration 2:11
She's hooped danced around the world, but now an Indigenous Manitoba teenager can add entrepreneur to her resume. Émilie McKinney started a new business venture - with the help of her mom - making authentic Indigenous jingle cones and lids for dresses.