Montreal Lake Business Ventures has acquired partial ownership in Manitobah Mukluks in a deal which will see the two enter a mutually beneficial agreement.
Robert Fincati, Montreal Lake Business Ventures CEO, said the Cree Nation is excited to enter into a partnership with one of the fastest growing companies in the world.
“Manitobah Mukluks is one of the Growth 500 fastest growing companies in Canada,” Fincati said in a press release issued by the Cree Nation. “This investment connects us to a well-known, quality brand and allows Montreal Lake Business Ventures to grow and fulfill our mandate of wealth creation for our community.”
Manitobah Mukluks was founded in 1997 by Métis entrepreneur Sean McCormick, the company’s CEO. He noted the company is excited about the partnership, and demand for their products continues to grow.
The company strives to provide high-quality mukluks and moccasins but also strives to be socially responsible. Ahead of the partnership announcement, staff from Manitobah Mukluk’s Storyboot School spent time with students at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial School in Montreal Lake.
Gloria Beckman and Sarah Brazauskas taught a group of youths how to sew and bead mukluks and moccasins.
“It’s a really important part of our culture and identity as people; it’s something that our ancestors have done for thousands of years,” Brazauskas said. “It was something that traditionally was passed down from grandmothers and mothers and daughters and it’s a connection that’s been broken.”
Brazauskas attributed the break in tradition to the residential school system, which separated children from their parents, and ultimately their cultural identities by placing them in school for 10 to 11 months a year. Manitobah Mukluks Storyboots program is an effort by the company to mitigate any lost cultural traditions and preserve the art of making mukluks and moccasins.
In making moccasins and mukluks, students are also taught self-worth, according to Beckman. She said artists sometimes undervalue their work, resulting in them paying themselves just over one dollar an hour for the work they put into the finished product.
“I’ve seen moccasins sell as cheap as $80,” Beckman said. “Some flowers can take five hours [to bead], so for a pair of moccasins, that’s 10 hours [of work]… this is not just footwear; this is wearable art, with spirit.”
She said if people start realizing moccasins and mukluks are wearable art, not just a pair of factory-made boots, things will start changing and artists will start benefiting. Students who participated in the Storyboots program were taught to charge at least $20 an hour for the labour they put into their work.
Manitobah Mukluks also provides an outlet for artists to sell their wares. The company’s website features a section dedicated to selling the work of Indigenous artists from across Canada. Brazauskas explained those who submit work to the company receive 100 per cent of the profits from each sale.
Community leaders from Montreal Lake are also excited about the new partnership.
Chief Frank Roberts noted the partnership will be beneficial to the community along with the Cree Nation's business arm.
Vice Chief Dean Henderson, who oversees the education portfolio for the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, said he hopes to see more interactions between youths in the community and Manitobah Mukluks.
“It benefits everybody,” Henderson said. “I would like to see this not only once a year, but two, three times through the school year … this is the first time we’ve tried it, and you can see how involved how the students are… I’d really like to see it more than once a year.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:06 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2018 to clarify that Montreal Lake Cree Nation has acquired partial ownership of Manitobah Mukluks.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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