Business Woman of the Month: Tanis ‘Akutuq’ Simpson

Business Woman of the Month: Tanis 'Akutuq' Simpson
Image Courtesy: Tanis ‘Akutuq’ Simpson

Can an artist disrupt an entire handicraft industry? Every Indigenous artist accomplishes crucial work, from representing their traditions to advocating for the equal rights of their communities. But there’s one artist cum woman entrepreneur who has emerged to highlight Indigenous traditions and transform the Canadian fibre industry: Tanis ‘Akutuq) Simpson, an Inuvialuk woman entrepreneur and owner of Qiviut Inc. Fibre Mill in Alberta The Indigenous-SME Magazine has named Tanis as the Business Woman of the Month in this month’s magazine edition to honour her work and efforts to bring an important Inuit technology to the mainstream.

Located just outside of Edmonton, Alberta,  Qiviut Inc. Fibre Mill is a small, family-run enterprise that exemplifies the ingenuity and tenacity of Indigenous people. Led by Tanis Simpson, an Inuvialuk fibre artist and entrepreneur originating from Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories, the organization has received numerous accolades within Canada and internationally. Tanis’s entrepreneurial trajectory is a compelling illustration of how cultural heritage and an enterprising mindset can help advance the goal of economic justice for Indigenous communities.

Legacy Preservation via Innovation

Qiviut fibre, the precious, ultra-soft insulating undercoat of the muskox, is an essential part of Tanis’s cultural heritage. Being raised in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, where qiviut was a daily part of life, Tanis and her brother Brad have always been known the value of qiviut, an important natural insulator. In Growing up in the presence of skilled fibre and textile workers, Tanis began pursuing her own creative practice with ancestral materials like sealskin and qiviut. This eventually materialized in her mission to revive and maintain these age-old customs as she and her brother launched their  her own qiviut fibre mill. Today, they source muskoxen hides from Inuit harvesters who are continuing their culture and feeding their communities sustainably. Using vintage mill machines and heritage methods, they produce high-quality qiviut yarn, knitwear, and natural hand warmers based on Inuit culture.

Transforming the Qiviut Sector

Qiviut is one of the world’s rarest and most precious natural fibres, valued globally for its unbelievable warmth and softness. Despite the economic potential of this valuable renewable resource, there were previously no qiviut companies owned by Inuit people: rather, qiviut was exported and processed elsewhere. Since 2019, the family-operated Qiviut Inc. Fibre Mill has established itself  the sole Indigenous-owned qiviut company in North America. Under Tanis’s leadership, the company now enjoys the status of an industry leader in terms of sustainability and innovation. It has gained recognition and praise for its creative approach in the Indigenous business sector through its continuous preservation of cultural heritage and integration of fibre processing technology.

Raising the Status of Indigenous Peoples

Beyond making a living based on cultural practices, Tanis’s long-term goal is to give back to her community and to provide long-term sustainable economic possibilities. With Qiviut Inc., she is committed to increasing sales to provide culturally appropriate jobs, despite many challenges as the small Indigenous-owned firm operates outside of its home territory, where it can access markets and other opportunities. Tanis and her team are committed to providing public education about qiviut and its cultural importance: they can regularly be seen at public events with a muskox hide, encouraging people to try combing out the precious fibre for themselvesTo that end, Qiviut Inc. is also helping to reinvigorate and indigenize the local fibre industry by building relationships with wool growers, processors, and markets.

Business Woman of the Month: Tanis 'Akutuq' Simpson
Image Courtesy: Tanis ‘Akutuq’ Simpson

Tanis’s experience with Qiviut Inc. demonstrates how creative entrepreneurship can remarkably influence and impact not just the preservation of cultural legacy but also direct the promotion of economic empowerment of Indigenous communities. You can learn more about their business by clicking here.

The Indigenous-SME Magazine is an invaluable resource for Canada’s small Indigenous companies, both nascent and established. To view our magazine, please visit the following website here. To remain up to date on the latest news, please consider following our X account by clicking here. We encourage you to join our community of people who are enthusiastic about supporting Indigenous businesses

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