Jacob Faithful said the goal behind his latest project is a simple one.
“Having a higher quality grade mask is going to save a life.”
Faithful, a 42-year-old father of six, is working with the Frog Lake First Nation northeast of Edmonton to open a manufacturing plant capable of producing ASTM Level Three medical grade masks.
It will be the first mask manufacturing plant on a Canadian reserve that is owned and operated by Indigenous people.
“I’m very proud to have a plant on a First Nation territory,” said Faithful. “I think it’s important to inspire our young people.”
Faithful currently lives in Lethbridge where he operates Young Spirit Supplies, a company that already distributes hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and masks.
But he wanted to increase public access to the medical grade masks, which are designed for fluid protection.
ASTM Level Three masks are currently available through a number of retailers, but they are more costly, and Faithful said many people are reluctant to pay the higher price.
“I will be selling them at the same price I’m selling my non-medical (masks) for.”
Faithful, who grew up on the Frog Lake First Nation, plans to open the manufacturing plant in a community gymnasium. The band has a 49 per cent stake in the company.
He said the mentorship and support of Alex Dugal, CEO of Ottawa surgical mask manufacturer Viral Clean, was instrumental in getting the project going.
Viral Clean not only assisted with licensing, but is also helping to modify the manufacturing equipment that was brought in from China, to meet Canadian Safety Standards.
“Engineers in Ottawa are working to make it CSA approved.”
The machine will be transported to northern Alberta February 19 and Faithful hopes to start production the following Monday, February 22.
They plan to offer masks in several colours, including blue, black and white, as well as black masks that will feature traditional art designed by Indigenous Quebec artist Natasha Root.
Faithful said the company has already entered into supply agreements with seven First Nations, and he expects to make pitches to the Blood Tribe and Piikani Nation within the next few weeks.
But he said there is room to serve everyone.
“When I think about saving lives it doesn’t matter if your First Nation or non-First Nation,” said Faithful, adding what’s important is that they are filling a void.
“And by filling that void we are going to save lives.”