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Indigenous Business Workshops At The Top Of The World

I was recently asked to hold Indigenous business workshops for artists attending the Iñupiaq Arts Festival from September 12-14th in Barrow, Alaska, sponsored by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.

Thrilled by the opportunity to work with the talented people of the north, I packed my warmest cloths and travelled 13 hours from Vancouver, B.C., to arrive at the “Top of The World”, known as Barrow, recently renamed Utqiaġvik, which means a place to dig for roots. Utqiaġvik is the northernmost community in the United States, and has the largest village on the arctic slope with around 4,500 residents.

Utquiagvik (Burrow), Alaska

Although the town is a modern community, subsistence hunting, fishing and whaling are still very important to the local economy. Many residents continue to hunt and fish for their food.

It was a “balmy” 2 degrees Celsius when I finally arrived and settled in at the King Eider Inn, located conveniently across the road from the airport. I was welcomed by the hotel's friendly owner, Jack Phan. The hotel was rustic with loads of character and it was to be my home away from home for the five days that I was in Utquiagvik/Barrow.

In gaining orientation of the town and preparing for my courses the day after my arrival, I went for a walk to check out the surroundings and get my bearings. Speaking of bears, I was told by the local Subway worker on my first day there that a polar bear was spotted roaming the outskirts of town. I did not see it during any of my walks (thankfully! lol) but a friend and I did go searching for it from the safety of his SUV. We did not find any polar bears, but did spot a few snowy owls and a white fox, which was pretty cool.

Since it was still their fall season, the snow had not come yet, so the roar of 4 wheelers verses snowmobile was heard everywhere. Almost every house had a snowmobile in their front yard. Trust me when I tell you, the people living at the “Top of the World” are hearty! The Arctic wind chill factor felt like 40 below to me and I was bundled up in many layers.

Patuk Glenn of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and festival winner

It was the lovely Patuk Glenn (on left), economic development manager at ASRC who asked me to join them in Utqiaġvik for the week as ASRC management is quite interested in encouraging more entrepreneurship and trade in the region, with a particular focus on encouraging greater awareness and demand for its Northern Alaskan Art industry.

Patuk organized a successful arts festival with more than 200 community members, local business owners and tourists in attendance.

The event included workshops in carving, jewellery making, painting, photography and other creative endeavours, networking and new relationships formed, traditional feasts, and an opportunity for the artists and artisans to showcase their work to the public.

Activ8's Indigenous Marketing Workshop

The business workshops facilitated by Activ8 are a new addition to the festival and participants who attended each course were eager to learn. Live music and dancing wrapped up the successful event and everyone had a great time!

Indigenous Business Workshops

Participants of the Iñupiaq Arts Festival attended three fundamentals courses in Marketing, Sales and Business Technology to further develop their skills in starting and growing companies, building a brand for their products and services, learning to use the latest technologies, and considering local business ideas that would do well in Utqiaġvik, such as a tour company, spa salon and an online art gallery.

Artists, Business Owners and Workshop Participants

They are warm and friendly people who were wonderful to work with, and our time together included generating new ideas, strategies, shared stories, laughter, creativity and ingenuity over the three days that I taught. I was inspired and thoroughly enjoyed my time with them!

There were fantastic experiences that some participants had operating existing businesses, and everyone was enthusiastic to learn more about marketing, and the new technologies used in business today such as social media and Google's suite of online tools.

Established artist Larry Ahvakana and his partner in life and business, Donna Ahvakana, have had much success gaining gallery exposure for his work, which is important for an artist to get known, however they weren’t as familiar with expanding their marketing reach to a more retail focused environment using online methods like content attraction, SEO, social listening and social networking to directly reach fine art enthusiasts and buyers.

Larry Ahakana Bronze Artwork

After taking the workshop, Larry and Donna were more knowledgeable in building a brand and identifying where their audience spends time online in order to create a more integrated marketing strategy that will reach a broader audience. You can see Larry’s Ahvakana’s amazing pieces at

Carved Whale by Jonah Leavitt

Northern Alaskan Artist, Jonah Leavitt, creates beautiful whale carvings that were displayed at the festival attended by community members, tourists and corporate representatives from the area. Jonah began to put his new sales skills into practice by selling one of his highly intricate art pieces to a corporate buyer. Way to go Jonah!!

Workshop Outcomes

Participants learned how to position their businesses and build a brand for themselves and their company, identify their ideal target customer and how to access the many communication channels that consumers are using today to search, share information and buy products and services.

Fred, Jonah, Elouise and Ira

Participants also learned about the process of selling and how to build relationships that lead to long-term loyal customers.

Mock-up sales situations were created where participants partnered up and took turns being the buyer and the seller to learn the steps in a sales scenario.

The business technology workshop which is a new addition to Activ8’s training program, was requested by the client to train participants on the latest technologies used in business today. Many of the the tech tools are free which is the best kind of resource for bootstrapping start ups and small businesses.

Topics covered in the technologies workshop included using Google Docs and Gmail to create brochures and customer correspondence, building template websites with ecommerce platforms to sell online, setting up email signatures to encourage contact and buying triggers, using Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram to find prospective customers that are interested in Indigenous art and using Google and hashtags to get into various online conversations.

In the sales course, participants learned how to build rapport and ask great questions to uncover a buyer’s motivation. Everyone became more comfortable knowing that sales is basically, helping people to get what they really want for a fair price. Selling is also building a long-term relationship by caring about the customer, giving excellent service and staying in touch after the sale is completed.

The people of the North are making their voices heard! Watch for beautiful art coming out of Northern Alaska and if you are ever in Utqiaġvik, look up the Buc’z Tour Company and ask for Fred Tuelefield who will take you on an exhilarating tundra adventure!

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