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Nations Creations supports training and aboriginal artists

Nations Creations offers high-tech training in Chilliwack, with a royalty payment plan for aboriginal artists built right in
Nations Creations coordinator Nordina Newton watches as participant Debbie Ratzlaff sets up the embroidery machine.

Nations Creations is blazing a trail with training from a tiny portable on the Sto:lo Nation site in Chilliwack.

The new program is recognition that the manufacturing industry needs highly trained workers, and that artists need fair compensation for their work.

So the new Nations Creations program takes a two-pronged approach, offering specialized equipment training for 24 unemployed people from the Fraser Valley, along with a royalty payment plan for local aboriginal artists built right in.

Participant Bill Anaquod said the whole experience of Nations Creations has been "eye-opening," for him.

His group of 10 is being trained on the high-tech, state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment housed in the Nations Creations portable. There are about six different pieces of machinery, such as the laser etcher, white printer, or embroidery machine for example.

Anaquod was concentrating hard, but took a break to explain the heat press he was setting up to print animal t-shirts, when The Progress came by for a tour.

"I've never worked with textiles and multimedia in this way," said Anaquod.

He is one of two Nations Creations groups of 12 that will be paid to train on the equipment and computers, from the brightly lit little portable at the Sto:lo Nation site, and other locations.

"I'm gaining a better insight into the garment industry, and the printing industry," Anaquod said. "It's not the reason I took the course but it's a bonus."

The designs can be embroidered or white-printed onto t-shirts, and hats for any customers seeking new swag for their companies.

The images are etched onto mugs, glassware and more, all to be sold at the Sto:lo Gift Shop and beyond. Then they'll have royalty cheques cut for the artists.

The new project from Sto:lo Service Agency was launched last week with a traditional longhouse ceremony that included local MLAs, and Sto:lo Grand Chiefs, as well as Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation.

Funding came through from the Province in the amount $600,000 for 52-week program, through the Project-Based Labour Market Training stream of the Community and Employer Partnerships (CEP) program, which funds projects that increase employability levels.

“I’m very happy to see this important project taking off," said Minister Stilwell at the launch from the longhouse. "Not only will this 'community and employer partnership' provide up to 24 people with the skills and resources needed for employment, their work will also serve a social purpose by helping aboriginal artists and their families continue to financially benefit from their work.”

It's never been done this way. Part of the concept involves "social innovation" by supporting the artists in a sustainable way.

Every time a replica of an artist’s work is sold by Nations Creations, they will earn a portion of that revenue.

Darren Stollings, programs manager, Sto:lo Nation, who came up with the program model, with Sto:lo Gift Shop Manager Bonny Graham.

He described it as "changing the landscape" for indigenous artists.

"A system where artists receive compensation in the form of a royalty for their artwork is long overdue," Stollings said.

Graham agreed.

"The concept was to have designs developed by local artists, which would be juried, and then we become our own wholesalers," Graham said.

For this project, Nations Creations will source the artwork from aboriginal artists, from the Lower Mainland and beyond.

The way it has worked up until now is an aboriginal artist would be issued a one-time fee for an image, say of a bear, or eagle, that gets reproduced countless times by a large manufacturer, with no financial followup to the artist after they're paid out initially.

It's already making a difference with a whole new approach.

"We think it's going to change the face of how business is done," said Nations Creations Coordinator Nordina Newton.

It fills a void for aboriginal artists, by offering 25% royalties from the wholesale price.

It's an opportunity provide more financial independence for artists, and training in a much in-demand sector, so the approach to participant training is also forward-looking.

"Although they may not use the exact same equipment we have here anywhere else ever again, they are still learning how to use the equipment, how to be safe on it, and how to maintain it," said Stollings.

The new-found expertise gained by program participants should go a long way.

"When they're done with the process they can take these technical skills and go, maybe to Molson when their new brewery opens in a couple of years, or other manufacturers," said Stollings.

Next training session for Nations Creations starts April 3, with application deadline set for Feb. 28. Applicants must either be on an active E.I. claim or have been on EI in the past three years to be eligible. Call 604-824-3291 for an appointment.


Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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