Showcasing the beauty and resiliency of Indigenous artists

Category: Indigenous business Startup Success stories

Delree’s Native Art Gallery is located in the quaint town of Didsbury, 80 km north of Calgary. It opened October 6, 2015, which is also Delree’s mother’s birthday. Every year on October 6, they have a celebration in honour of her and her Birthday. Delree’s Iconic Sign hangs above her storefront adorned with one of her very first paintings: “Waiting for Grand Entry” – a rear view of a jingle dress dancer.

Delree Dumont, originally from Onion Lake Cree Nation, is the owner and operator. She is an artist herself, and has been since childhood. She never did pursue her art fulltime, until she left the oil and gas industry in 2014. Delree started out painting realism, and switched her style to pointillism, at which point she started selling quite a few paintings.

Building a business on tradition

It’s important for Delree to get to know each artisan personally so she can really promote their work. She represents over 30 Indigenous artisans and crafters, which also includes Aboriginally-owned businesses such as Sequoia and Mother Earth Essentials. Especially in the non-Native community, there are so many questions, and Delree wants to be a resource for them to help find answers.

“My mandate is to help support Indigenous artisans, crafters and knowledge keepers, showcasing to the world the beauty of our culture and traditions. I am absolutely positively passionate about our culture. I want to share with the world because there is a need for that.”

She also hosts workshops on painting, traditional crafts and teachings. She listens to what her customers want, and if she can make it work, she will add new offerings. It’s important for Delree to help people more knowledgeable than herself. She contracts experts, (e.g. medicine wheel teachers) to deliver training and gives them all of the proceeds to help sustain them in keeping on their journey to continue teaching.

Celebrating milestones and accomplishments

Just recently, Delree won Bronze in the Mountain View Gazette’s Readers’ Choice Award as the best place to view/buy art. She is also being featured in the Indigneous Art: Colouring It Forward calendar (sold at Halford’s Hide, Staples, and other galleries), and is participating in a book project with the Didsbury Library, which involved artists and authors working together to pair paintings with short stories. Finally, Delree also hopes to be nominated for a Didsbury Small Business of the Year Award.

Keeping a positive perspective

Delree is looking forward to her third year in business because that is traditionally when startups begin to make a profit. Her gallery is a labour of love, so money is not her driving force; however, she admits a salary would be nice, having not paid herself since 2014.

Her main goal has always been to pay her artisans so that they can continue their craft, as well as providing the good and services that her customers are looking for. She is constantly on the lookout for new artisans and crafters, and always pays fair value for their work, including a fair commission for gallery pieces.

Learning from the challenges she's faced in her first 2 years in business, Delree has advice and insights to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs:

  • If you have a good idea, you have to be passionate about it. I work long hours, including time spent painting because that is part of my business. However, it doesn’t even feel like work because I love it so much. I can work 18 hours and not feel the dread of going to work like at a 9-5 job. That is everything to me.

  • Set goals and take small steps towards accomplishing them every day. Taking baby steps towards large or scary goals makes you realize it was not painful at all. Before you know it, you’ll wonder how you ever did it and you’ll be surprised how quickly things come together.

Accessing a wealth of business knowledge

“Business Link has been so amazing. Your website, with all the information posted, as well as your staff help support my business.”

DeIree started her journey by creating a business plan. She joined an 8-month program with the City of Airdrie called SMARTStart, which involved classes, online training, and access to mentors. She remembers the mentors being a big factor in starting up her business, and she still has a relationship with them today.

Reading different books on marketing and utilizing Business Link and Alberta Women Entrepreneurs training and courses enabled Delree to learn how to expand her business. She now has 4 part-time casual employees, and has shared her love for learning by enrolling them in a customer service course through Olds College.

Recently moving to a new store location helped Delree realize how blessed she is to have so many amazing people willing to help her. Her tight-knit community is incredibly supportive; the Town of Didsbury, the Didsbury Chamber of Commerce, and the Didsbury Museum all work together to support local business. 

Want to follow Delree's journey? Learn more about Delree’s Native Art Gallery online or follow her on  

 

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About the Author

headshot of Holly Atjecoutay

Holly Atjecoutay

Business Link

Holly is Cree and Saulteaux from Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. She assists Indigenous entrepreneurs in central and southern Alberta regarding the startup and expansion of their small businesses. She connects them to helpful resources while also providing guidance. She also facilitates workshops and builds meaningful relationships in both rural and urban Indigenous communities. Holly holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, so it is no surprise that in her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, and collecting books, and also authors a blog on the Indigenous Woman’s Identity. Holly believes the art of storytelling and communication is one of the key factors in building a strong business.

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