December 3rd, 2021

Miywasin Moment: Indigenous entrepreneurship strengthens economic growth

By JoLynn Parenteau on November 24, 2021.

Small business entrepreneurship is growing with Indigenous startups on the rise.--PHOTO BY JOLYNN PARENTEAU

“You already possess everything necessary to become great.”

– Proverb, Apsáalooke (Crow) Tribe

Indigenous Peoples are on a path to self-determination. The concept that people are capable of making decisions about their own lives is a driving force in reconciliation. In a society that equates success with survival, Indigenous small business owners are working to turn dreams into a better future for their families.

Our Native ancestors were natural entrepreneurs and understood the value of commerce. Elaborate trade routes funnelling commodities over land and waterways across Turtle Island (North America’s name from an Indigenous creation story) existed long before the first European explorers arrived. The fur trade that lasted 250 years was made possible by Indigenous trapper and travel expertise.

In the 21st century, Indigenous entrepreneurship is on the rise. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business projects says by 2024, Indigenous business will earn more than $100 billion annually. RBC’s 2020 Indigenous Partnership Report ‘A Chosen Journey’ proclaimed, “It’s clear Indigenous economic development is not only an integral component of reconciliation, but also an important driver of Canada’s future economic prosperity. Indigenous business owners and entrepreneurs in Canada will be vital to this effort.”

In a webinar last week, non-profit Futurpreneur Canada shared business startup advice and heard practice pitches from a variety of small businesses and artisans. Beaders and painters, a wellness and art therapy practice, a wood-fired pizza chef and a Cree wisdom-based financial adviser each received tips on business acumen from some of Futurpreneurs’ own Indigenous advisers, who offer financing and business mentorship to young entrepreneurs.

Futurpreneur’s Jason McDonald shared his passion for communication.

“You are starting a business. To make the business successful, you have to sell it. To sell it you have to properly communicate that to your target audience. Can you do that?” he asks his mentees.

New to the Futurpreneur team, Noah Wilson sees the wide gap in the standard of living between First Nations Peoples and the rest of Canada. He is passionate about becoming a trusted adviser for young Indigenous entrepreneurs who are looking for an opportunity to bring their business proposals to fruition.

Futurpreneur mentees consider three points in their business plan: What do people get (identify your product/service)? Who loves it (who is your target market)? What is awesome about it (what is the value to the consumer)? McDonald asks would-be business owners, “Is your business viable?”

In the grind for success, “You either win or you learn,” Wilson quips. Starting a business can feel lonely, so Wilson and McDonald advise entrepreneurs to identify your early supporters. “There is a community out there for you,” assures Wilson.

Business startups can explore funding from Futurpreneur or Edmonton-based Métis business development program Apeetogosan.

“Cashflow is the lifeblood of your business,” explains Wilson.

The National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) oversees Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) – Indigenous-controlled, community-based financial organizations supporting First Nations, Métis, and Inuit business startups. NACCA’s Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship program develops workshops and financial support specifically tailored to reflect the culture and circumstances of Indigenous women in business.

Medicine Hat is home to a number of local Indigenous entrepreneurs. Last week, storefronts along Third Street SE participating in the downtown Midnight Madness market hosted a number of makers. Josie Saddleback of Saddleback Stones was at the Copper Leaf Café where her handcrafted terrariums and raw gemstone accessories are available for sale. Brooke Simon of the Magick Moonstone had a pop-up shop for her gemstone bracelets in Arcade Plaza Friday night. The TREX gallery featured the handmade leather and beaded jewelry from Brenda Mercer’s White Horse Rider Co. Hatters looking for unique gifts can have custom apparel and accessories made by Métis entrepreneur Aaron Melanson of Motiv Apparel on Third Street SE. For the online shopper, Deadly Diva CREE-ations’ earrings as well as Saddleback Stones, the Magick Moonstone, and White Horse Rider Co. can all be found on Facebook or Instagram.

In a June 2021 thinkpiece for RBC’s Inspired Investor blog, author Rita Silvan wrote that “economic development is a key part of Canada’s future and our country’s reconciliation journey.”

This holiday shopping season, let us take steps in our reconciliation journey that include supporting our local Indigenous small businesses.

The Miywasin Moment will be taking a break over December, and will return to feature new Indigenous voices in 2022. JoLynn Parenteau is a Métis writer out of Miywasin Friendship Centre. Column feedback can be sent to jolynn.parenteau@gmail.com

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