By Andrea Smith
Twelve youth from the Mistawasis First Nation are getting a crash course in best business practices. The Mistawasis Nehiyawak Business Club started up in early November, with the help of school staff from both the Chief Mistawasis School and a school in the neighbouring community of Leask.
It’s an initiative on behalf of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, as part of the Youth Entrepreneur Program, with a large portion of the financial support coming from the Potash Corporation.
“The idea first came up from Joe Taylor who is a retired entrepreneur from Tisdale. He started wanting to give back to the community by setting up business clubs to show kids how to do business. Then he decided he wanted to expand his knowledge and expertise with First Nations kids,” said Yvonne Daniels, community school coordinator for Chief Mistawasis.
The kids in the program actually attend Grades 9 to 12 at the Leask school, but because it’s a joint initiative, Daniels facilitates it, along with her two coworkers, Marie Johnstone—an academic worker, and Mandy Currie—a transition worker.
“These kids basically run the program themselves. They do all the production of the product, figure out which product they want to sell, and produce a prototype of it,” said Daniels.
The age group is significant, too. The graduating students will phase out of the program, while every year, new incoming grade nines will join.
Daniels says it’s a “revolving door” and students in any of the grades can opt-out and join again later if they choose. And the older students have the responsibility of mentoring the younger newcomers to the club.
“They really enjoy it. For two of them… they’re brother and sister… they said ‘If we weren’t in this program, we’d have nothing to do.’ And one of the other one’s said, ‘At home there’s nobody, so at least here I have people to hang out with,’” said Daniels.
The student’s project of choice is a feather box, which they’ve learned to design and build themselves. Their woodworking skills were untapped prior to the program, but with the help of woodshop teachers in Leask, the students are now proficient feather box builders, said Daniels. They’ve even selected one talented young artist to add color by painting pictures on their work.
“The larger box sells for $80, non-painted. The second box is smaller, and is $60 non-painted. Whatever design you want on the box is what the artist will paint. She’s really good at looking at picture as inspiration and she’ll just kind of put her own spin on it… Any panting is an extra 20,” said Daniels.
Along with learning business ethics and procedures, the students have also taken in extra-curricular learning on topics like financial literacy. And they’ve been invited to attend trade shows and meetings with big businesses to “pitch” their product, including being invited to attend a “pitch party” with the well-known host of the popular TV show Dragon’s Den.
“They got to meet Brett Wilson and take a picture with him, at this pitch party. And the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association… one of the guys that runs it… stopped in at a trade show because he heard about them. He actually invited them to the AFOA conference in June to present to over 200 Chief Financial Officers in Saskatoon,” said Daniels. “And he offered to give them a free financial workshop on January 16th and 17th,” she added.
But of course, there are rules and the youth must follow them. The students have to stay committed to their other classes, meeting grade and attendance requirements, according to Daniels. Yet despite the added workload, the students are nothing but dedicated.
“The kids do have to follow as a rule our 3 A’s… academics, attendance, and attitude. In order for them to be able to do the program, they need to meet those needs. So far, the feedback we’ve gotten from our vice principal is that with the kids, something changed… it’s like they matured,” she said.
Principle of the Chief Mistawasis School, Donna Autet, has been partially involved in helping Daniels access resources the she needs to keep the program running smoothly. Autet was also invited to sit in on a recent business meeting the youth were having amongst themselves.
From what Autet has witnessed, the program has been a huge success, even just in terms of helping the students see their own value alone.
“Through the whole thing they’ve been really excited about it…. Being able to go to that pitch party and talk about their project, and make orders and ship them off was good for their self-esteem,” she said.
“They were proud of themselves that they were doing this… and that was something that was good for them,” said Autet.
You can follow the students or contact them through their Facebook page: Mistawasis Nehiyawak Business Club. Or contact Yvonne Daniels at: email@example.com