Alma Masuskapeo of the Cree tribe of Ahtahkakaoop First Nations (meaning star blanket in English) started sewing blankets as a hobby over twenty years ago. The hobby became a therapeutic and healing experience as she set out to reconnect with her roots, but as interest grew in the items she created, her entrepreneurial spirit grew to match.
Growing up in Northern Saskatchewan, as part of Alma’s home life, they often sewed and did beadwork. “[It was] that kind of an environment where we had to work to make our money so kind of our background in my family is, we are … entrepreneurs” said Alma. “They are craft-oriented artisans” she added.
For centuries, the people of the plains have used star blankets to honour individuals at the time of life changing events. The items hold a tradition of generosity and blessing. To give one shows the utmost respect, honour and admiration, and to receive one indicates the giver holds you in very high esteem.
Alma always knew she wanted to own her own business. Even when she returned to school to complete her business administration certificate, she knew it was taking a step towards employment in the short term and moving her closer to her long-term goal of self employment.
She had previously worked under the political umbrella working for chiefs, and during that time, her co-worker’s interest in her items began to grow. “It started as a hobby and they saw my work and it exposed me to my current clientele.” Alma said.
Next, Alma set her sights on British Columbia where she sought to grow her business to a full-time occupation. She found support from Community Futures Okanagan-Similkameen (CFOS) and enrolled in the Work BC Self Employment Benefit Program.
After completing her training with CFOS, Alma was ready to officially start her business. She was able to attend conferences, market her business, and create a stunning website with the help of Community Futures. “They are very supportive, and they did help with some funding … it was good for me to start my business and it assisted me in my transition, to continue growing my inventory and not having to worry about day-to-day funding” Alma shared.
The conferences she attended generated over twenty orders while giving her the exposure she needed to create repeat customers. “The main thing is that people like my work … so they always come back, and they want more for their family members.” Alma shared. “…It seems like everyone who got my gifts were so emotional about it and happy and it helped shape my meaning of success and that’s how I would like to help people.” she said.
Alma, pictured above with CFOS Business Advisor, Adam Ova, continues to manage her own company, offering her collection of twelve blankets, each with different meanings. Her gifts, including smudge kits, are available to all walks of life and can be found on her website www.starblankets.com.