2019, Volume 4, Issue 1 - Summer 2019

Hearing (and answering) the call of opportunity

By Émilie McKinney

My name is Émilie McKinney. I am 18 years old, and a youth from Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba. I live with my mom and business partner, Natalie Foidart, in nearby Somerset. I’m a Fancy Shawl dancer, a post-secondary student at Maskwacis Cultural College in Alberta, and best of all, I am the founder of Anishinaabe Bimishimo Corporation.

I was a high school student at at École Régional Notre-Dame, had just turned 16 and had already travelled a few countries to hoop dance. There was a winter Pow Wow coming up that advertised a jingle dress special. I had grown out of my jingle dress and wanted to make myself a new one. I called our local elder, from whom we used to get our jingle cones, and sadly his cone maker had passed away, and he couldn’t get any more jingle cones made.

We headed to a trading post in Winnipeg to purchase jingle cones. I asked the clerk to see the jingles behind the counter. They were so expensive! They were $40 for a bag of 100 cones, and I needed four bags. On top of that, the jingle cones were made in Taiwan.

The jingle dress is a sacred dance that represents healing. The jingle cones are meant to hit each other to awaken the creator so that prayers and healing can be heard. How can an object as sacred as a jingle cone be made in Taiwan? This is supposed to be an Anishinaabe product, and it should be made by Indigenous peoples in North America. It bothered me so much.

I wanted to put authentic cones on my dress. I started searching where to purchase North American-made cones, but I came up empty handed. It did not make sense to me at all. How could a sacred item be made in Taiwan?

Be the change

On the drive home, my mom said “Listen, if you don’t like this or have a problem with this, then do something about it. Talking about it won’t help. The problem will still be there until someone makes that change, so solve it!”

She explained that this change would be big, and I would need a logo that has meaning, a business name, and a business plan. She said until she saw those things, she didn’t want to hear another word about it.

Most importantly, she said if I were serious and presented
her with those things that she would do everything in her power to support me. She likely thought it would end there. She
was wrong!

When I got home from school the next day, I showed her
my logo, explained to her the meaning, and handed her my business plan.

I wanted to pay homage to our elders that had given us this teaching and had moved on, that dance by us in spirit, right over there. Anishinaabe is who I am. I am an Anishinaabe from Swan Lake First Nation. Bimishimo means dancing by, as in dancing over there, by us, beside us. The vision of Anishinaabe Bimishimo, the first manufacturer of jingle cones in Canada, was born that day.

A steep learning curve

We had to learn so much – from substrates to machinery, to planning to making projections. Countless hours were spent on trying to find the right substrate we wanted and needed to work with. Things like the sound of the substrate came into play. We stumped a few salespeople when we asked them to describe the sound their substrate made. I’m sure a few of them questioned
our sanity.

It was hard to be taken seriously in the manufacturing world at times. We often felt brushed off. But I really needed to make this change and was willing to fight for it.

Things like our manufacturing line and piecing it all together so it could work flawlessly was challenging. We had to find experts, like the awesome people at Wallace Machinery who actually took us seriously and made the time to explain to us how everything could work, what we should consider and helping us find the pieces required so we could put it all together and build something that fit our needs.

When the going gets tough…

Finding funding or to be taken seriously for that was also challenging. Banks and credit unions wouldn’t fund our start up, and I was too young to qualify for any kind of indigenous funding opportunities. We were so grateful to have been guided to Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba and Futurpreneur who gave us the ability to start up.

We ran into huge issues during start up; nothing went to plan.

A custom piece of machinery built for us by a local engineering firm was delayed by five months, so we hand rolled 250,000 cones. I was even hand rolling cones in class just to meet demand. A lot of raw material was wasted during trials of our custom-made machine. After three prototypes it finally ran true at triple the cost, and we used half of our raw material in that process which ended up in our scrap bin, so we ran into cash flow issues. We ran out of copper and brass three weeks after our complete line ran true in May 2018, and I had to wait until I turned 18 to finally be able to secure additional financing.

At long last, I did it! We did it!

First People’s Economic Growth Fund, Dakota Ojibway Community Futures, and Swan Lake First Nation helped us to get there. Our brass and copper are set to arrive in less than two weeks; our manufacturing line runs true; and I have over 80 stores throughout North America that carry our jingle cones. Every week, we have more stores that sign up to carry our product.

It’s only the beginning

I know how to service every aspect of my manufacturing line, and driving the forklift is super cool. Packaging and shipping are tedious, but marketing is super fun. Public speaking is awesome, and writing proposals… well, public speaking is awesome!

I’ve just started to work on a top-secret Limited Edition Project that I’m hoping to launch on the day of Fall Solstice.

I still have numerous goals I want to achieve, and I still have a lot to learn. I am looking into developing another custom in-house manufacturing line in the near future that involves an environmentally friendly aspect.

And this has been a small part of
my journey.

If I had one piece of advice for other young entrepreneurs, it would be: “Whatever you’re doing, do it with passion and do it with love. You can only accomplish so much when you don’t have passion. Fight for what you believe in and never give up.”

Émilie McKinney, is Founder of Anishinaabe Bimishimo Corporation, is an internationally recognized hoop dancer, and is a member of Swan Lake First Nation in Manitoba.