Culture Drives Opportunity

Chief Drygreese Conference Centre Enters Retail Business with New Gift Shop

By Meagan Gilmoure

A new gift shop at the Chief Drygeese Conference Centre is bringing new economic opportunities to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

The shop, which had its grand opening in March, sells jewellery, boots, gloves, purses and other accessories made by local First Nations artists. Artists receive 95 per cent of the proceeds from sales, says Jason Snaggs, the Chief Executive Officer of Yellowknives Dene First Nation. About 15 artists sell their goods in the store.

“We are a government that is not-for-profit, so our goal is to promote economic independence for the artists and to give them an outlet to share and to present their culture, not just to visitors, but to the world,” says Snaggs.

Chief and council had wanted to open a store for years, says Snaggs, who started in his role in October 2018. “When I came on board, I more or less gave it some impetus to move forward to establish the shop,” he says.

The centre, which opened in 2014 and is home to the First Nation’s administrative offices, was an ideal location. It’s situated in Dettah, at the end of the ice road, which attracts tourists. It also has enough space. All that was needed was to purchase point-of-sale devices, upgrade the Internet capabilities and install shelves to display the merchandise.

“(The store) supports the economy of small entrepreneurs who are making crafts out of their homes with the hope that it will drive economic independence for these small business-minded people to continue and promote their art and culture while providing an income for themselves,” says Snaggs.

They hope to have an online presence for the store, too. The centre promotes the First Nation’s culture in various ways. The shop’s grand opening occurred during the Naka Festival gala, held at the centre. Various drum dances occur at the centre throughout the year, as well as special events like Aboriginal Day celebrations. The centre will also be part of Hockey Day in Canada, scheduled for February 2020.

“Our goal is to promote economic independence for the artists and to give them an outlet to share and to present their culture”

“That is very exciting,” Snaggs says, especially because it will be the first time the national event comes to the territory.

The centre makes much of its money through rentals for events and conferences. Snaggs estimates there are two or three meetings held at the site each week during the summer. The territorial and federal governments hold meetings and different functions there, for example. The building can accommodate about 450 people, and comes equipped with LED screens and an electronic whiteboard. The council chambers on the downstairs floor can be used for smaller meetings of about 35 people. The wheelchair accessible facility includes a patio overlooking Great Slave Lake. Interpretation services are available for Indigenous languages, says Snaggs, and the centre provides catering.

“We tend to promote traditional foods which also provides employment for people within the community,” says Snaggs. Common menu items are traditional stews, bannock and fish. The First Nation hopes to receive funding this year from the federal government for a feasibility study to investigate building a cultural centre, which would include a permanent location for the shop. The feasibility study, if approved, would take between 18 and 24 months to complete, says Snaggs.

“That (cultural centre) will be the permanent home of the shop where we can promote Yellowknives Dene culture and where we can export it to the world,” he says.

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