The hopes and dreams of an Indigenous entrepreneur spur her to create major economic projects
Born in the city of Sept-Îles and originally from Nitassinan (Innu territory), Josée Leblanc is the Executive Director for Atikuss Canada. This entrepreneur created the Bottes de l’Espoir (Boots of Hope) and promotes her culture throughout the world by sharing the talents of Indigenous women through ancestral art.
She named her company Atikuss for “Atik”, which means caribou, and “Uss”, which means young caribou. It was a way of paying tribute to the animal that helped her nation survive, and the term “Uss” underscored the hope she has in our youth. Josée explained that, according to her people, the caribou are the master of all animals and that they played a very important role in the lives of her ancestors.
Atikuss’s mission is to pass on traditions by using ancestral beadwork techniques to make clothes and accessories. All products are created in a traditional way while keeping reuse, non-waste and return to communities in mind. They use natural materials and call on the incredible talents of Indigenous artisans who share their knowledge with future generations. The enterprise offers products such as moccasins, mukluks, mittens, fur hats, handbags, jewelry, dreamcatchers, masks, etc.
Her new project, unique in the world
The creation of an Indigenous economuseum in Uashat came to fruition during a visit by the Société du Réseau ÉCONOMUSÉE to the Atikuss offices four years ago. This is when the project started to develop in Josée’s mind. This meeting provided her with answers to the challenges that stood in the way of her future plans.
In a way, the economuseum is the keeper of knowledge. It is also an artisanal enterprise, featuring both the workshop and the museum. It allows the public to meet the artisans who practice a profession rooted in tradition, but which is part of modernity. Through the economuseum, people will be able to discover the history of Indigenous footwear past and present, the transmission of the history of the Innu people, the importance of the caribou to the inhabitants of the territory, and more besides.
It will be located in Uashat and named the “Économusée du Maskisin”. This word in the Innu language means moccasin and was used by her ancestors specifically in the forest. This is a great way to bring this ancient word back to life among the new Innu generations.
Upon arrival, visitors will enjoy a multisensory experience that will allow them to feel that they are entering another universe. The size of the economuseum will be 4,800 square feet. It will have a space sharing the history of the Innu nation, as well as a new technology called Anectode which will be used to guide visitors using geolocation. The Executive Director specified that the artisans will all be on the same floor so that they can work together.
Currently, research is underway to find artisans who will be trained to take part in the economuseum. Construction will begin in mid-November 2021 and the project is expected to run until spring 2022. Additionally, the plan is to complete the team by September 2022.
These important values of helping, sharing, fostering discovery and transferring knowledge came into line with the characteristics of an economuseum. This project therefore constitutes the continuity of the mission of the Atikuss enterprise.
Creation of a magazine
It was thanks to the magazine that she designed herself that the popularity and notoriety of Atikuss increased greatly. This allowed the enterprise to increase its sales during the pandemic and survive economically. Josée specified that her dream would be to put her magazine in all the grocery stores and pharmacies in the province. This project would make it possible to showcase artisans from all Indigenous communities and pass on part of their knowledge with a view to safeguarding ancestral techniques.
With all her hard work and her professionalism, Josée Leblanc won the “Business of the Year” award during the Indigenous Tourism Quebec Recognition Gala, which was held November 25, 2021 as part of the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec. For her, it is the prize of a lifetime and a recognition that warms her heart.
In conclusion, Josée recalls “that it is by looking at how our ancestors lived that we can learn the joys of living a simple life, because even though life was not always easy for them, they were happy.” This is what drives her every day to endure and move forward with her projects, until her ambitions are realized.
We salute the tireless work of this Indigenous entrepreneur who follows her dreams with the faith that anything is possible as long as there is hope.
To learn more about Atikuss, we invite you to visit its website at atikuss.com.
To discover other projects and initiatives led by women, we invite you to visit our women entrepreneurship section.