An example of Indigenous Social Enterprise: Epekwitk Lanyards

Written by Jenene Wooldridge (WeavEast Fellow, Prince Edward Island)

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Epekwitk Lanyards is an Indigenous social enterprise that is driven to create long-term sustainable business and employment opportunities through the production of hand beaded lanyards by Abegweit First Nation. The funding for Epekwitk Lanyards is made available through the Skills and Partnership Fund (SPF) with The Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island’s Employment Services.

The SPF Project was established in 2017 with a group of beaders from Abegweit First Nation. In the initial days of the program beaders would pick up a kit that would allow them to bead at home 25 lan yards and return them for quality control and payment. This has evolved over the years into a social enterprise that allows beaders the opportunity to work in a team environment to complete lan yards orders for conferences across Canada. The project is accommodating to employees assisting with barriers that they have experienced to employment. Through mentorship, training and workplace essential skills each employee works on individual action plans to meet employment criteria.

What was the inspiration for your business?

The inspiration behind the business was a way to teach the Mi’kmaq culture through hand crafted beaded lanyards. The lanyard is a direct representation of the connection between each bead and each colour of man working together to create something beautiful and meaningful. All lanyards are unique and can be ordered in custom colours or the traditional four scared colours. Each lanyard is smudged before packaged for sale.

How does this contribute to social innovation?

All employees are hired on a piece work contract for upcoming lan yards wholesale orders. Employees that complete piece work contracts are unemployed receiving Employment Insurance or Social Assistance. The piece work offers them an opportunity to receive extra earnings while working in a supportive environment gaining soft skills that will advance them in their employment journey and the business development of Epekwitk Lanyards.

What challenges are you facing?

Human Resources - Resistance and delay in bringing about change

Social Entrepreneurs sometimes need to change people’s thinking and behaviors to make a social impact. Changing how people think and behave in society is very challenging and the benefits can take time to materialize. Epekwitk Lan Yards has taken a few steps back over the past couple of months in order to properly plan and move the program forward. There has been high expectations placed on the program and its participants because of the value for Epekwitk Lanyards Social Enterprise and Abegweit First Nation.

Infrastructure – Where do we go from here

Epekwitk Lan yards started small with a big vision. The program up until this year was housed in the Abegweit First Nation Band Office. This was suffice for the production team of beaders but with growth and the vision Epekwitk Lan Yards needed a space of their own that could offer more opportunity for retail sales and exposure. Unfortunately, the community in Scotchfort does not have a building at this time to house the project. Epekwitk Lan Yards has moved to the Echo Tourism Centre in Mount Stewart (3 kms) from Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort, PE. While moving the project forward in the new space, efforts continue for funding opportunities for infrastructure to get the project back into the community!

For more information on Epekwitk Lanyards please contact Partnership & Business Developer, Chelsey Andrews at candrews@mcpei.ca