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Why We Need to do a Better Job of Supporting Indigenous Entrepreneurs!

Jeff and William approached me in the fall of 2019 about helping them with their Ecotourism business. They had started the business in 2014 but said they needed some help in growing the business and getting more clients. They felt that if they could share their traditions and culture with the world, they could provide meaningful jobs for the youth of their community.

According to Stats Canada, the unemployment rate last summer for Indigenous youth was a whopping 26%. Jeff and William had recognized that without work, their youth lacked purpose. They also told me that jobs outside of the community were good, however many of the young people of their community had difficulty taking jobs in nearby communities because they had trouble getting drivers’ licenses. Without the ability to drive the 60 km to the nearest town for work they were stuck on the reserve. Jeff and William thought that providing work would solve some of the challenges faced by their community youth.

Recently I was helping on a city sandwich line and I decided to ask people the reasons that they were in such desperate need. Many were shocked but excited that someone cared enough to ask. The responses I got were varied including traumatic experiences, but one underlying theme was lack of ability to find work.

The current unsuccessful government model is to give people money to stay home. Most people don’t want to live on handouts! People want to be engaged in jobs that have purpose and make a difference. Everybody wants the opportunity to earn a living and be proud of what they do. It’s in poverty that we reach out in desperation for socially unacceptable activities which often result in disturbing consequences for ourselves and the community around us.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to work doesn’t exist in many First Nations Communities. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which are complex. However, going back generations has been an attitude by the Canadian Government that jobs on reserves run in competition to us white settlers. It was even so bad at one point that people in First Nations Communities weren’t allowed to sell their vegetables or produce outside reserve lands. Talk about putting a damper on entrepreneurial spirits.

Like many passionate entrepreneurs starting a business, Jeff and William needed some basic understanding about what was required for a business to succeed. Jeff had taken some college courses to enable him to understand the ecotourism and guiding business, however he and William needed some of the marketing and basic business knowledge to successfully operate the business, to enable it to fulfill their vision of supporting the community. This is only one of the challenges that Indigenous Business Entrepreneurs face.

If we as business leaders are really concerned about our impact and intent on supporting Indigenous Entrepreneurs like William and Jeff, we need to find ways to encourage entrepreneurs on and off reserves with initiatives that teach them necessary business skills that will help communities for generations.

Personally, we can:

- Share our own knowledge about business and build up capacity through mentorship and coaching

- Look at what our business does with third party suppliers and see if there is an indigenous service or product provider that you might be able to shift some of your purchase to.

- Listen for opportunities to encourage entrepreneurship in first nations communities

- Help Indigenous people we know identify and grow their skills that might enable them to create jobs and meaningful work.

In the end, our support of Jeff and William and the Dunne Za Backcountry adventures company, enabled them to take their business to the next level. However, it can’t stop there. As Canadians if we are serious about ending the poverty cycle of our First Nations brothers and sisters, we need to find opportunities to support these entrepreneurs not just with lip service but with actual purchases. Supporting indigenous entrepreneurs might be much more complex than a handout or subsidy, but the effects are longer lasting.

Dave Fuller MBA, is partner in Pivotleader inc, an Award-Winning Business Coach and the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Comments? Email or visit our website


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