Rebecca LaBillois: Weaving Heritage into Apitjipeg Crafts
In the heart of the Indigenous community lies a gem of craftsmanship – Apitjipeg Crafts, a beacon of tradition and ancestral craftsmanship. Owner Rebecca LaBillois, from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick, stands tall and is a torchbearer of this legacy she embraced when her mother passed away in 2013. “When I was a child, we started, and I took over the business…,” she recalls, the weight of heritage evident in her words.
Apitjipeg Crafts is a vivid tapestry of diverse indigenous artifacts – from black ash baskets and dreamcatchers to snowshoes and medicine kits. “My business is unique because we are family-based, using ‘four seasons’ as our product line,” Rebecca proudly states. She envisions a permanent establishment where the community can “buy, sell, trade, or make crafts.” Beyond being a business, Apitjipeg Crafts is a mission, focused on the “rebirth and renewal of a way of life of our ancestors.”
But what is it that Rebecca finds most rewarding? “Going to any place and taking my business with me and crafting on hand,” she elaborates. The joy, for her, lies in the “twinkle in their eye” when people, under her tutelage, craft something from scratch. Yet, entrepreneurship has not been without its challenges. “Learning the rope of online business and being able to keep up with technology,” she admits.
The Pow Wow Pitch beckoned Rebecca for its vast networking opportunities and opportunity to learn from peers. “By far, listening to the stories across Turtle Island and seeing the innovation and performance of each person online,” is what she cherishes the experience. Karanbir Singh (Harry), her mentor from RBC, transformed her perspective, helping her to “break things down to stages” and refine her vision for Apitjipeg Crafts.
Rebecca’s eyes are fixed on the broader horizons – more exposure and a physical establishment for artists. “Most people never leave the reserve with their talents that are hidden jewels stashed away,” she shares. In her eyes, every hidden talent is a treasure, deserving of the limelight.
For an Indigenous entrepreneur like Rebecca, the business is deeply intertwined with identity. “We need to be able to have a two-eye seeing approach… Combining two worlds together always to remind ourselves that we need this to stay grounded in who we are as Indigenous people,” she reflects. This philosophy is mirrored in every facet of her business, honouring past and future generations.
Through her entrepreneurial journey, Rebecca’s most vital takeaway has been the essence of financial management and bookkeeping. For budding Indigenous entrepreneurs, her advice is crystal clear: “Start out with small goals to achieve your bigger goals, and making connections is the key to success.” She extends her gratitude to those who’ve aided her journey, saying, “Without a good network, a business cannot stand alone.”
In Rebecca LaBillois and Apitjipeg Crafts, one witnesses rich tradition, entrepreneurial spirit, and an enduring commitment to community upliftment. Her journey is a testament to the power of heritage and the promise of a flourishing future.
Register to watch Rebecca pitch at the Creative Semi-Final Online Watch Party on September 13, 2023, at 6 PM ET and vote for Rachel to win the 2023 People’s Choice Prize (#5) before September 17, 2023.