Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How to give an aboriginal business a bad name

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With my daughter's second birthday coming up and a fresh batch of snow on the ground, I decided to scour the Internet for a pair of baby mukluks.

I found a few options, but a new aboriginal business was the main contender. I like to support aboriginal businesses whenever I can, and this new mukluk company seemed good.

Like all good impulse purchases, the price was a little out of my league, but I've learned if you pay more for a good quality product it lasts longer than a cheaper version.

The company offered free shipping within three days. I could also pay with PayPal, which is nice since I don't have a credit card. I ordered right away.

A confirmation email of my order popped up in my inbox, but there was no follow-up message telling me when I would receive my muks. I'm a veteran online shopper so I found this unusual.

Maybe this new company still had to work out some kinks, but I discovered they weren't really new. After some digging, I learned they were part of an established company selling their mukluks under a different name. I'd bought a pair of muks from them about five years ago and they were OK.

The advertised shipping deadline soon passed so I decided to send an email. They didn't respond! The next day I emailed again, and still no response. Well, so much for three-day shipping.

Strike one.

No businesses -- especially aboriginal ones -- should miss their shipping or delivery dates. It feeds the old stereotypes of aboriginal people being slackers.

My daughter's birthday passed without a present from me but that was OK. She's only two.

A day after my second message, I got a one sentence email saying my order was shipped, but still no delivery date.

One week after placing my order a guy shows up at my door with a box. He jumped in his car and took off. I opened the box to find a pair of moccasins, not mukluks.

What kind of aboriginal company can't tell the difference between moccasins and mukluks?

Strike two.

I called the phone number on the invoice to exchange the mocs for muks. A woman said she could send someone to pick them up the next day. I told her I'd drop them off instead. Their new office was only a 10-minute drive away.

I exchanged the mocs for the muks, and left happy. That is until I got them home.

Muks are supposed to reach the mid-calf and this pair was just over my girl's ankles. I would categorize them as high moccasins. They also left a big gap where snow could fall inside and get her feet wet.

All that running around and the darned muks where designed oddly and didn't fit right.

Strike three.

My anxiety level rose significantly.

An old friend told me the company in question doesn't employ aboriginal staff to make its muks. I always thought they did.

If you run an aboriginal business, it doesn't mean you have to hire aboriginal people. But doesn't it make sense if you're selling an aboriginal product?

The aboriginal friend -- who is visibly darker than me -- also said he was treated rudely when he went down to their local office years ago to buy moccasins. They shooed him out without a blink and told him to order online.

Funny, because around that time, I went to that same office to order and pick up my muks.

That was it.

I dropped off my daughter's muks for a refund. That took a few more days so I washed my hands of them. Companies -- even aboriginal ones -- that don't treat people right, don't deserve my-hard earned cash.

-- -- --

I took my own advice from awhile back, found an aboriginal craftsperson and ordered my daughter a pair of hand-made, beaded mukluks. They look great and cost a third of what my disappointment muks cost.

I also bought a leather needle and found some white leather scraps to play with. Maybe with a little practice I can make her a pair myself.

Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 A17

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