by John Copley
The buffalo is a symbol of power, strength and survival, a spiritual animal that for centuries provided North America’s Indigenous peoples with the necessities of life – food, clothing, tools and shelter. The Sparkling Buffalo, an entrepreneurial venture owned and operated by Chrystal and Sarah Buffalo, members of the Montana First Nation at Maskwacis, is also a symbol of power, strength and survival.
“It’s an exciting adventure for us,” noted Chrystal, mother of partner Sarah and the spokesperson for the fledgling enterprise that began about a decade ago when the two began to market their craftsmanship to friends, family and extended family in their home community.
“We decided to put the expertise we’d gained over the years making authentic Aboriginal crafts for family members and friends; we did it primarily as a stress-reliever and a way to relax after a hectic day at work. It wasn’t long before people were noticing our handiwork and commenting on how beautiful it was,” explained Chrystal. “When we moved into Edmonton several years ago so that Sarah could attend post secondary studies at MacEwan University, we had already established a name as artists and crafts makers who knew what they were doing and stood by their work.”
What began as a hobby soon turned into a small business that currently generates “a healthy percent” of the monthly income needed for the duo to sustain themselves.
“We still need to bring additional income into the house but we are making very good progress and our work is beginning to resonate with buyers of authentic, handmade crafts and jewelry,” added Chrystal. “Before we came to Edmonton people in our community had already been coming to us to buy our goods and to custom order special pieces for themselves and their family members. When we moved here we took an extra step and began to attend Indigenous functions; our work was well received and we slowly became more and more successful. We began to network with other Aboriginal artists and crafts makers and today we often refer people to other artists we’ve met who might produce goods other than what we have to offer. For example there is a big call for moccasins and also for rings; we don’t make these items but we know people who do. They in turn often refer customers to us so it’s been exciting because the phone rings more often now than it did a few years ago. We believe that it’s important to work with our brothers and sisters and to help one another whenever we can.”
Arriving in Edmonton, The Sparkling Buffalo ladies also made it a point to attend grand openings, Chief’s conferences, powwow’s, round dances, conferences, symposiums and any other function that attracted Aboriginal people.
“Our jewellery was prominently displayed on Season Four of the Blackstone television series and we’ve showcased, on several occasions, our goods in the Aboriginal Pavilion during National Aboriginal Day festivities,” noted Chrystal. “We’ve made lots of friends through the city’s Aboriginal vendor community and we’ve recently begun to hold Flash Sale events – that’s when a company or organizations calls us in and we bring our fashions to sell to staff members. These have become popular over this past year so if anyone wants us to come in to show and sell our goods to their staff we are just a phone call away. These Flash Sales are short and usually take place during the lunch hour when everyone in an office environment is taking a break. It’s a growing trend and we are always happy to participate.”
Sarah, 27, intends to return to her studies in the coming months and has decided that she’s going to move down south to Calgary to do that.
“I want to get involved in green technology,” explained Sarah, “but I also want to go to Calgary so I can reconnect with our southern sisters and make new friends in the Aboriginal vendor communities in southern Alberta. We have friends on the Siksika and Tsuut’ina First Nations and others further south in Morley, so it will be nice to see them all again. And besides that, we want to do our part to keep the Red Road open and busy for the next generation.”
Deciding to accept the challenges of entrepreneurship has been a work in progress but it’s been an exciting and empowering journey for both Chrystal and Sarah Buffalo.
“It does give you a sense of well-being to know that you have the ability to create, to build and to compete in a market that too often is fraught with imitation goods and products made in factories in far-off and foreign lands,” noted Chrystal. “We hand-craft everything we sell and hopefully one day soon we will be able to showcase our goods and our expertise in a storefront setting; right now though we are taking it step-by-step as we build our business and our customer base by attending and participating in venues across the region and beyond.”
The Sparkling Buffalo store is still a dream but one that is getting closer to reality with every passing day. Chrystal and Sarah are hopeful that within the next three years they’ll be able to realize that goal. To do that they’ll need to consider more than just location – location – location!
“To succeed,” acknowledged Chrystal, “we’ll have to make even more connections with Aboriginal artists and craftspeople and hone our business skills so we are able to work with and sell goods made by other Indigenous Albertans and Canadians who may be interested in working with us. Our skills have been passed down to us by our mothers and grandmothers and we want to share that culture with everyone. My family are rock-people; we’re connected to the land and we work with such things as turquoise, amethyst and jade. It’s a family tradition; my parents were rock-hounds and in the old days my grandfather used to collect shells in the Battle River that could be turned in beautiful jewelry and other household items. Unfortunately those days are gone; there are no more shells in that river so we must look elsewhere for production materials created naturally by the elements and by Mother Earth.
The Sparkling Buffalo is a unique and successful enterprise with an abundance of interestingly beautiful crafts, jewellery, hand bags, earrings, broaches, necklaces and more. Since seeing is believing all that’s required is a quick visit to the website at: www.thesparklingbuffalo.weebly.com – there you’ll find the contact information for Chrystal and Sarah Buffalo, two knowledgeable entrepreneurs anxious to fill your orders. You can also find The Sparkling Buffalo on both Facebook and Instagram.