PEI

New Mi'kmaq printing company creates jobs and cultural awareness

A new company called Mi'kmaq Printing & Design is focused on selling T-shirts and bags but also celebrating the Mi'kmaq culture on P.E.I.

'I have a real sense of pride over the product we've created here'

Kwe, means hello in Mi'kmaq, and the T-shirts have been a hit. (Submitted by Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.)

A new company called Mi'kmaq Printing & Design is focused on selling T-shirts and bags but also celebrating the Mi'kmaq culture on P.E.I.

"It's about teaching our culture to other people and passing it on," said Ricky Knockwood, social enterprise project developer for the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.

"I think there's a real opportunity for that now and people are really interested in what we have to say."

Some of the T-shirts feature the Mi'kmaq double curve, which is an ancient design that was preserved in rock art. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Social enterprise

The idea for the company came out of a social enterprise conference hosted by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy in May, with special guests from Manitoba.

"We brought them down to create some buzz around social enterprise," Knockwood said.

"We have lots of people who need work so by building social enterprises we can focus on building the skills that we need."

The idea of a design and printing company made financial sense.

Ricky Knockwood prepares a T-shirt to be printed. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"We do a lot of printing and promotion so we thought, 'Hey, let's give some printing a go where we can bring the money back internally instead of outsourcing it to other companies,'" Knockwood said.

"Keep it inside and give people employment at the same time."

'Sense of pride'

Since March, Knockwood has learned how to create designs for printing, from online illustration programs to operating the press itself.

"Then we went to the team and said what kind of shirts do we want to start with, something simple so we can test it out," Knockwood said.

"That's when we came up with our first shirt design which is the Kwe shirt."

The company is currently based in a church hall in downtown Charlottetown. They sell mainly at pop-up events but hope to have more retail sales in the future as the company evolves. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Kwe, means hello in Mi'kmaq, and the T-shirts have been a hit.

"It's a really cool experience to see people look it over and they really like it," Knockwood said.

"It's really blown me away because I have a real sense of pride over the product we've created here and the designs that we make."

The team says the Kwe T-shirts are a conversation starter. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

In July, Mi'kmaq Printing & Design Company started selling its line of shirts and bags at the Epekwitkewaq cultural centre in Cavendish, P.E.I.

"The Kwe shirts, they're our baby because people were always asking us, do you know Mi'kmaq? Is there something you can teach us?" said Deidre Augustine, who started working at the centre in June.

"It's super simple and it's a greeting and it's so versatile."

Inspired design

Melissa Peter-Paul, of the Abegweit Mi'kmaq Nation, has created several of the designs, including the logo for the Epekwitkewaq cultural centre. 

It features the Mi'kmaq double curve, which is an ancient design that was preserved in Mi'kmaq rock art.

Melissa Peter-Paul says the Mi'kmaq double curve design was inspired by ancient petroglyphs. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The double curve is now featured on T-shirts and bags as well, which were also popular this summer.

"I was so proud because we see these Mi'kmaq double curves in petroglyphs dating back hundreds of years ago," said Peter-Paul. 

"To be able to trust that process in me, inspired by the ancestors, and to carry forward with it, I was so proud."

In July, Mi'kmaq Printing & Design Company started selling its line of shirts and bags at the Epekwitkewaq cultural centre in Cavendish, P.E.I. (Submitted by Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.)

Peter-Paul is now branching off to start her own company, which will include quill work and bead work.

Knockwood says part of the goal of a social enterprise project is continually evolving.

"Get other people in here working on it, I can teach them and then I can move on to other projects that we want to tackle moving forward."

As part of the process, the team cuts out the illustrations that are going to be applied to the T-shirts or bags. It's called weeding. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Mi'kmaq Printing & Design will be part of the first Indigenous artisan market at Founders Hall in Charlottetown on Sunday, Dec. 9th, hosted by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. in partnership with Lennox Island First Nation and Abegweit Mi'kmaq Nation. 

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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