When an Elder asked Mistissini’s Richard Mianscum if he could make a king-sized bed, it would turn out to be just the push he needed to get his life back on track.
In 2013, Mianscum was having problems at home – with his girlfriend, and with drugs and alcohol – that threatened his custody of his children.
“I was about to lose everything, including my kids. Drinking, doing drugs, that’s how we grew up,” Mianscum told the Nation.
He was working doing renovations and general housework, while also taking his young children to school and daycare. But when the courts told him he could lose his children for a year, he agreed to attend a treatment centre for a six-week program.
“Six weeks sounded good,” Mianscum recounted. “I needed a break, so I accepted that.”
He managed to stop drinking. But four weeks into the program, a friend passed away, and Mianscum returned to Mistissini. When he returned to the treatment centre, he admitted that he had smoked and broken the rules.
Offered another chance to start the program, Mianscum agreed. He finally returned home after a total of 12 weeks.
“Since then, no drugs, no drinking, that helps me a lot. My hobbies keep me busy,” he said, adding that his children – now 10, 12 and 13 years old – are still with him.
Mianscum posted on Facebook to see if anyone needed any work around the home when an Elder asked about making a bed. Having taken a furniture-making course decades earlier, Mianscum figured he could get it done.
It turned out there was a strong demand for beds in the community – and that kept Mianscum working hard. Eventually he outgrew his basement workshop and expanded into other furniture.
“People kept saying I needed a shed,” he recalled. “I asked the band office if there was a budget to start a business like this because I wanted to stay working at home with my kids.”
The band found $5,000 to help Mianscum start his business in earnest. Since then, he’s been teaching himself his own way of making furniture. Yet he’s eager to follow up with past clients to make sure their furniture is holding up.
“Three years ago, I made a table and 10 chairs for a school. I asked the teachers if the chairs are okay – they said there are no problems with the chairs, but one of the tables has a crack in it, so I’m learning to do tables differently,” he said.
“I always ask people to tell me if there’s anything wrong because I’m still learning. Nobody’s complained so far.”
Mianscum has now expanded beyond beds and beyond Mistissini – making tables, chairs, living-room sets, TV stands, bedroom sets and kitchen cabinets. He’s had clients in all nine Cree communities, and as far away as Sudbury, Ontario.
Currently, he’s working on an order of 20-some tables and over 90 chairs for a restaurant but is cautious about taking other orders and having people visit during the coronavirus outbreak.
For anyone interested in ordering furniture once things return to normal, Mianscum says the best way to contact him is via Facebook.