What a treat is was to see the world-class beadwork on offer at the Caribou People Creations online store featured in News/North last week.

The Lutsel K’e-based online store has artisanal items from card holders, purses and mitts to moccasins, earrings and sewing kits. There’s even a (sold out) tipi lamp.

Northerners are not strangers to surviving in a headwind, which is what the pandemic and public health lockdowns represent to entrepreneurs. The Caribou People Creations founders had survival in mind when they created the store as a bridge between homegrown talent and the global marketplace. It’s been 30 years since the bricks and mortar store that would sell the wares of some residents in town closed, taking away the primary source of income for some of them. Tourist traffic and word-of-mouth buzz were the ingredients for success for Terri Enzoe. But an online portal allows the First Nation to bypass the barriers thrown up by the pandemic. Tourists can shop from their living rooms and with travel restrictions in place and fewer people flying anywhere, it’s not much of a leap to suggest some of them have more cash in-hand to spend on souvenirs because of trips they postponed or cancelled, saving money on airline tickets or hotels.

Alexandria Catholique, left and Saniz Catholique model community crafts from Lutsel K’e artisans. The Caribou People Creations online store is the perfect example of made-in-the-NWT ingenuity. photo courtesy of Pat Kane

Rosie Catholique, who manages the physical store at the Lutsel K’e band office, said craft-makers sometimes line up with their products when Christmas market season hits. Now, the queue of people waiting to buy can stretch into space.

Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, this store is going to get some serious respect. Take our money, for example, please.

Contrast this with the real Grinch move by the new owners of what used to be known as Northview REIT, now named Northview Canadian High Yield Residential Fund, emphasis on the high yield and fund. They really went for it, trying to add a web payment fee to the bills of any of their Inuvik tenants who paid through a new online portal.

The timing of the attempt at what the NWT rental officer said amounted to an illegal rent increase with no due process or notice was downright shameful. It took a complaint and possibly news coverage to prompt the company to do a 180 and back off on the new costs.

Just the idea of a convenience fee is laughable. Remember when shopping online and reserving online and paying online was supposed to be the next big thing and connect retailers with new markets and consumers with different products and make things easier and more convenient and reduce the administration associated with physical paperwork and recordkeeping? How did all that morph into companies charging convenience fees for buyers using a format that reduces the number of people they have to pay and physical space it has to own or lease? It’s like a library charging a levy for using an online search instead of the card catalogue.

So there are two examples of how to make money. One keeps it in circulation in the NWT. The other puts it on a spreadsheet to benefit shareholders, many of whom are surely well-to-do.

December is at the door. Not everyone has more to go around. Many have less, many have not enough. But if you do have a Christmas list with names still on it, why not have some fun with words and get some retail therapy at the same time? Anyone can visit the Caribou People Creations store online but if you do find yourself in the capital, Just Furs in Old Town has a galaxy of choices made with care and control by NWT Artists Guild members – and masks and hand sanitizer at the door.

Buying local isn’t just a clever slogan, it can make a world of difference for our neighbours.

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