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Antoine's idea.

How a native travel agency survived

Louise Bruneau, the 37-year-old general manager of Clement Travel Services, sets a styrofoam cup of apple-flavored herbal tea on her desk and in a crisp voice announces: "We are established."

Bruneau means the firm has reached its fifth birthday and is now no longer prone to the high mortality rates of young companies -- but nothing is guaranteed.

But the first five years were not easy. The travel agency, located on Ness Avenue, opened its doors in July 1988. It was started by Chief Felix Antoine, of the Roseau River Reserve, who according to Bruneau, saw a niche market. "He'd been in politics for ten years, saw how much Aboriginal people were travelling and said 'why not have an Aboriginal firm capitalize on that?'" In addition to his own cash, Antoine got help to set up shop from the federal government and four of the six tribal councils in Manitoba.

The first few years were miserable. Although it is the only native-owned and operated travel agency in Canada, getting and keeping Indian business has been hard.

"When we first opened I couldn't believe how little positive response we were getting," says Bruneau. "It was scary, people were saying to me 'so what, leave me alone.'"

A real sore point is the lack of support from the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), based in Ottawa, which spends $7 million a year on travel. Not a dime flows through Clement. "Mercredi gives speeches about natives supporting Indian businesses but then ignores us," says Bruneau, noting that attracting travel business from the Aboriginal community depends more on politics and family ties than good service and fair prices.

In spite of the lack of support from the AFN, the travel agency has shed its red ink in the past two years. During the 1991-92 fiscal year gross sales reached $2 million and profit was pegged at about 11 per cent.
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Title Annotation:Native Entrepreneurs; Chief Felix Antoine
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:321
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