At age 11, Kennedy Bruno, a Cree/Mohawk youth of Samson Cree Nation, is not only already a successful entrepreneur, but is giving back to her community, which is being seen as a shining light of hope for the rising generation.
Having run her own custom T-shirt and stickers business, called Shirts and Quirks, for about two years, Bruno recently donated a portion of her proceeds, amounting to $400, to the Ermineskin Women’s Shelter.
She said she wanted to donate to a local organization that would be as impactful as possible.
As shelters on-reserve receive about half the funding from the province as those off-reserve, donations, “mean everything,” said Sandra Ermineskin, the director of the shelter.
Every donation or grant receives has a direct impact on the women they serve, she said.
There was an upcoming culture camp they were needing resources for and the shelter needs to replace tables that are falling apart and other furniture, as well any number of other current, urgent needs.
“My goodness, there’s a generation that’s healing. There is a shift happening with our First Nations people,” said Ermineskin.
“Just by this today, shows me our people are going to be healed.”
Bruno had a vision to help unite Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across Canada, and her Kanata orange shirt design is a call to action for all Canadians to learn the true history of Canada.
She wanted to create a design about Truth and Reconciliation because her grandparents went to residential school. She also has a lot of non-Indigenous friends, so she wanted to create a design that bridged that gap as her design is appropriate for anyone to wear.
The design features the words “Know Your Kanata” and “End the Silence.”
There are three hands representing Inuit, First Nations and Metis, and a splash of colour for Two Spirit individuals.
While the concepts of some orange shirts can be angry, Bruno wanted to create a design that was about bringing people together and that conveyed that reconciliation starts with knowledge.
“It’s not the design (itself), it’s the meaning of the design and bringing awareness,” said Bruno.
By July, she had sold 2,500 shirts, with sales projected as high as 4,000 by the end of 2022.
Her other message is that if a 10-year-old can start a business, she wants to inspire others to do the same.
“You’re never too young to be a boss, or too old. You can be any age and start a business.”
An aspiring fashion designer, Bruno also sells hoodies and has made purses and laptop bags. For now, she is sticking with printed products as they can be easily duplicated, she said.
Orders have come in from all over Canada, although mainly from Alberta.
Besides her budding business, she is also a public speaker, presenting at several schools in Calgary. She was also the keynote speaker at the Town of Bruderheim’s mayor’s gala in May.
Her father Derek Bruno has been an entrepreneur all his life and has launched several businesses in Maskwacis and Wetaskiwin. He is the managing partner and founder of SevGen Consulting Inc. and encouraged Kennedy’s business interests.
At first, when he asked Kennedy to present a business plan to him, he just thought it would be a nice father-daughter bonding activity about learning to start a business, but things just took off from there.
“You never know what your kids will pick up,” he said.
Beyond just a business, Shirts for Quirks is helping to spread a message of hope.
Shirts and Quirks has been the primary partner of Impact Society’s Role in Reconciliation campaign over the last two years, allowing the society’s Heroes are Warriors program to be delivered to over 175 Indigenous youth across Canada.
In the first year, 2021, Kennedy’s company provided 100 orange shirts to Impact Society’s donors, and will have provided about 1,300 shirts for this year.
“Working alongside the Bruno family has been nothing short of enlightening and empowering for our organization,” said Christopher Primeau, CEO of Impact Society, in a letter of support for Shirts and Quirks.
As a former council member as well as a business person, Derek is aware of the financial obstacles still facing Indigenous communities.
Derek said there is nowhere near enough resources in the community for what they are trying to build and create to support their members and it’s government policy that created that situation and maintains roadblocks for Indigenous people to move forward.
For example, under the Indian Act, banks can’t use any assets on reserve as collateral for a loan.
He wants to dispel the myth that Indigenous Peoples are just lazy drunkards. There are many who are business owners and also many companies who want to do business with companies in Maskwacis, however, Derek said they should put their money where their mouth is first by making meaningful investments that will help Indigenous people reclaim and revitalize their culture and language.
Schools on-reserve are also funded at 50 per cent of that of other schools in Alberta, said Derek.
Sandy Belrose, a board member of the Ermineskin shelter for 15 years, said the shelter also faces difficulties.
“For me, (the shelter) is something I believe in because we are helping and advocating for whole families,” said Belrose.
The shelter is currently trying to secure funding for second stage housing, which they say will be of great benefit to the community.
While the shelter is mainly for women, they also take in their children and help some men as well as there is such a need in the community.
The shelter is a safe place for Elders and is open 24 hours a week, seven days a week, to respond to crisis calls from the young to the old.
Their statistics and calls they receive indicate a men’s shelter is sorely needed in the community, she added.
For Elders dealing with trauma who are afraid to speak of their experiences, the shelter has become a safe, confidential space and has become a community hub, of a kind.
Training is also needed for staff to who act as frontline workers to learn healthy self care, said Belrose.
The shelter is on their way to becoming the first shelter that offers online crisis intervention training.
This year the shelter’s theme is awareness in action.
“The truth is now coming out about the harms done in the residential school system and conferences have been led but where’s the action?” said Ermineskin.
She added she’s seeing the change now before her eyes.
“I’m grateful for the Elders who saw pain but also saw hope and prayed for this rising generation,” said Ermineskin.
“I’m now witnessing young people beginning to rise and not be silent anymore.”