In December 2019, the ThriveNorth program successfully completed its five-year mandate. Managed by Futurpreneur Canada, the program helped young entrepreneurs in Northern B.C. launch and grow their businesses by connecting them with resources, financing and mentorship.
With the holiday season just around the corner, there is no time better than now for Canadians to shop local and support small business. This directive bears perhaps more weight for remote communities like Northern BC where, tight-knit by nature, the demand and reliance on small businesses as the integral drivers of local growth and economy is great.
As the founder of a home-based, native-owned business and recipient of the ThriveNorth Small Grant Project, Crystal Behn-Dettieh of In Her Footsteps knows all too well about the significant impact the small business platform affords both her and her community. For Crystal, her Fort Nelson native art and crafts store is more than just a business – it’s a vehicle for preserving, propagating and sharing her roots and the Indigenous heritage of Canada and her local community.
Born and raised in Treaty 8 traditional territory, Crystal is of Dene and Carrier ancestry, and grew up watching her mother make and sell native crafts. After overcoming addiction and watching her mother lose her battle with cancer, Crystal turned to her Grandma Mary to reignite her connection with her culture, learning the traditional harvesting of meat and fur, and the art of native beading and moccasin-making.
Beading quickly became Crystal’s passion, and she went on to win first place in four local art contests, prompting her to share her art with the world and launch In Her Footsteps in October 2018.
Although challenged by additional hurdles, Crystal had a vision, and took the steps she needed to build her business. After completing the Aboriginal BEST program in business entrepreneurship skills training, she connected with ThriveNorth through which she was successful in receiving a grant to purchase more products and funds to build an online store and reach a global scale.
For Crystal, the success has been overwhelming and encouraging, and as her wait list continues to grow, she remains dedicated to producing only work that is truly representative of her roots.
“I will only use traditional hand-smoked moose hide. If it’s not made with hand-smoked moose hide, it’s not authentic to the Dene, or the traditional ways of my people,” says Crystal.
“My Ancestors didn’t have the option of buying factory-tanned hides. I take immense pride in being able to call my work traditional and authentic.”
It’s this same pride and value that Crystal and her husband, Jason, continue to instill in their children.
“We teach our kids as much as we can [because] they have to learn twice the knowledge – the colonized ways and the old ways of the land,” says Crystal.
Aiming to bring beauty and authenticity to everything she hand crafts, Crystal credits her skills, knowledge and ability to create meaningful products for her community to three generations of strong women – her mom, Grandma Mary and Aunt Elaine, all represented in her hand-sketched logo.
“Those three woman were gone before I started In Her Footsteps, but they’re the ones I long to run to and show off my latest work. I would always drive to Grandma’s house to have her approve everything I made,” says Crystal.
“One day we’ll all sit in heaven and bead together. It’s so hard sometimes having them gone, but I’m so thankful to have an amazing circle of support from my friends and family.”
Recently Crystal has used her business to promote culture and tradition recognition, raising funds from a portion of her sales to donate back to her community.
“These are the people that need to be supported to keep our culture and traditions alive,” says Crystal.
“Northern BC is perfect for my business because it will always be home. This is where my story began; this is where my family’s roots are. My handmade craft is from this territory, and fortunately I’ve made a business doing something I love.”