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The fur is flying in Providence

Dene Fur Clouds rebounds, demand on the rise

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Providence (Oct 26/01) - Dene Fur Clouds started out as a modest business with 23 women knitting out of a basement of a house.

Things got worse before they got better.

When the three proprietors had conflicting ideas of where the company should be headed, it wound up closing down for a year. The business re-emerged in April as a subsidiary company of the Northwest Territories Development Corporation.

"Things are going much better," said general manager Judy Magrum. "We're getting back at it and finding new customers."

The staff is now down to four full-time employees -- Nancy Bonnetrouge, Nellie Norwegian, Bertha Minoza and Emily Squirrel. George Deneyoua works part-time.

"They've hung ... they're truly dedicated," Magrum said.

They've also seen their working conditions improve. They now sit down at knitting machines in a brightly-lit room in the new Deh Gah Got'ie Betterment Corporation office building.

"It's better than hand knitting," Squirrel said of the knitting machines. "This is faster than hand knitting."

Regardless, it's still an intricate process. Knitters weave strands of beaver or rabbit fur and wool through the many prongs of the knitting machine, select a knitting pattern and blend the two materials together. The result is hats, mittens, scarves, headbands or blankets that are incredibly soft to the touch. Buttons are made from antlers and other natural products.

Sweaters, which have to be tumbled in a drum to remove excess fur and then cut and sewn, and blankets, can take a few days to complete.

Most sales are still made within the NWT, but a trade show in Toronto in August has led to a few business deals there, Magrum said. There have also been inquiries from Vancouver, she said. Although buyers are still primarily catering to those interested in Northern arts and crafts, headway is being made in fashion outlets and hotel gift stores, said Magrum. The employees are working on a new line of accessories under the Ek'o label, which is a Dene word for "watch out!"

Norwegian said with a laugh, "We work like beavers."