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Cree Star Gifts opens up shop in Swan River

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A new Indigenous based business has set up shop in Swan River. Cree Star Gifts, owned and operated by John and Corinne Belanger, is planning a grand opening for the shop, which is located at Unit 1, 108
5th Avenue North in Swan River. 
Corinne is Cree from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation (SCN), but grew up mostly in Brandon. She lived there with her aunt and uncle throughout her teens until she moved to Saskatoon. Corinne attended the
University of Saskatchewan and completed a Bachelor of Arts and Science and a Bachelor of Education 
Degrees. This is also where she met her husband John. 
John is Nakota from  White Bear First Nation, Sask., and grew up in Saskatoon. He also studied at the University of Saskatchewan and completed a Native Studies Degree and a counselling degree from the
Brandon University. “I currently teach art at École Swan River South School,” said Corinne. “I love working with kids and teaching art. We have four beautiful children, and each of them are involved
in our family business to varying degrees. 
John and I have been married for 19 years and we enjoy doing our business together. “We both come from creative, talented upbringings and families. For example, my grandmother traditionally made birch bark baskets every spring; also she beaded, and tanned hides. My grandfather made pow wow drums
and assisted my grandmother with all her creations. John's family beaded, made traditional staffs, and eagle fans. His family also used teepees for ceremonies and gatherings. John's earliest memories involved
family gatherings and events inside teepees, so a lot of traditional knowledge has been passed down to us. We never dreamed of making the things we saw growing up, however a lot of it was in us.”
John and Corinne dabbled in selling their Indigenous craft work over ten years ago, before becoming Cree Star Gifts. Much of the inspiration for the design and handiwork came from family members, including
the name.
“In 2009, I seen my aunt, Rose Stevens, making birch bark baskets, and it inspired me to start making them again,” explained Corinne. “This was the first product we started selling and it actually inspired our first website, called Birch Bark Star Baskets. In 2011, we changed our name to Cree Star Gifts. We
chose this name because of my Cree heritage and the star is on our baskets, blankets and bags. The name also honours my grandmother, Hazel Stevens, who designed the baskets with the star on the lid of them. “We expanded our business to include baskets, bags, and star blankets. It wasn't until 2010 that John started harvesting teepee poles, because he saw the demand for these in Indigenous communities
around us, which prompted people to ask him to make teepees also. So after a few years of just selling the poles, he started sewing the teepees as well and we began to sell them. Our first year, we sold
three teepees, but in the second year, we exploded with demand and we have been busy ever since.
“We operated as a home-based business for six years, sewing at home, only promoting ourselves using our website and Facebook,” added Corinne. “We started renting shop space last year, and recently moved into a bigger location in January. This is when we hired staff, bought more machines and focused on opening a storefront.”
Many of the items at Cree Star Gifts are Indigenous based and crafted. There are different styles of Indigenous teepees that can be ordered and the star blankets come in a variety of sizes. “We, along with our staff, manufacture star blankets and teepees within our shop,” explained Corinne. “We also support other local and non-local Indigenous artisans across Canada. Most of our products are made by us or other crafters, but some of our products that we sell are purchased from companies, such as Pendleton Blankets. All of our items for sale are Indigenous themed.
“The teepees that we make range from six to 30 ft. Customers can chose from either Dakota, Cree or Ojibway style teepees. Each canvas is sold with the door, pins, pegs and rope. Each teepee needs at
least a set of 15 peeled teepee poles, which are sold separately. The star blankets we make and sell come in a variety of sizes. The fabric we sell includes broadcloth, Indigenous prints, cotton, soft and bright
batting. We also sell Pendleton blankets, Indigenous- themed fleece and mink blankets, household items, beaded jewellery, tote bags, purses, wallets, baskets, scarfs, lamps, moss bags, rifle cases, and jewellery
boxes, and more.”
COVID-19 has impacted a lot of new businesses’ start-ups in a negative way. John and Corinne have managed to work through this challenging time and set of circumstances, to build a solid foundation
for the business. “During the pandemic, we harvested teepee poles together, and peeled them,” said
John. “This helped us stay healthy and strong as a family and it also kept us busy. Our business permits us to spend time together as a family and we love sharing our knowledge about the teepees with others.
Soon we will be doing workshops in different communities to teach traditional crafts that we’ve learned.”
The Belangers have been progressive in their methods of doing business and knew the importance of having an online shopping portal and website before the pandemic hit. “Everyone is welcome to check out and order from our website at www.creestargifts.com noted John. “We can replicate anything on it exactly or as closely as possible, depending on fabric availability. With the purchase of our custom made teepees, we try put up the teepee with our customers whenever we can. Our website also has an instructional video for customers to view. Orders can be emailed to creestargifts@hotmail.com or call us at 204·734·2116. We also can ship items to customers who are unable to pick them up in person.” 
Cree Star Gifts will be holding their grand opening on April 26 and their regular store hours are from  Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. “We’re having a Mother's Day Draw starting on April 26th for a queen star blanket and a $100.00 gift card from Pizza Place,” concluded
Corinne. “Names are automatically entered into the draw when you purchase anything at our shop at the
grand opening and up until Mother's Day or you can come in and purchase a ticket for $10.00! The draw will take place on Mother's Day.”