Resources And Support For Indigenous Entrepreneurs In Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month in Canada. This year, it is dedicated to the missing children, including the remains of 215 children found in British Columbia, the families left behind, and the survivors of residential schools. Monday, June 21 is also National Indigenous Peoples Day. A day when we commemorate heritage, culture and achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. 

In recognition of National Indigenous History Month, we have put together a list of resources, grant programs, and initiatives that support Indigenous communities. 

Supporting Indigenous businesses through challenges

In Canada, Indigenous businesses have long been successful in connecting communities, supporting trade, and building thriving economies. According to a Government of Canada 2019 study, Indigenous-owned small and medium entrepreneurs account for only 1.4 per cent of the total number of all SMEs in Canada. Yet, Indigenous people account for roughly 5 per cent of the total general population. 

While it’s clear that systemic barriers and hurdles remain, there are several Canadian resources where Indigenous entrepreneurs can access funding and support for their ventures.

According to the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA), Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada face unique challenges when pursuing their entrepreneurial goals. These were documented in the NACCA’s 2020 report on Indigenous Women In Entrepreneurship.

Some of these obstacles include:

  • Lower income and education levels which limit their ability to build equity to invest in a business
  • Geographical distance from financial services in First Nations, rural, and remote regions
  • Many Indigenous communities lack basic business infrastructure, such as reliable internet, business space.

Further, the Indian Act itself hinders Indigenous entrepreneurship through land title and property transfer limitations which impede access to business property. 

The Indian Act was first written in 1876 and is the primary law which guides the federal government’s decisions around Indigenous status, governments, and lands. Although it has been amended since then, notably in the 1950s and 1980s, Section 89 and Section 87 of the act still hold major challenges for Indigenous business owners. This is because of property restrictions and taxation exemptions which can also complicate companies based on-reserve.

Reconciliation through entrepreneurship

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report recommended economic reconciliation as a crucial call to action. Six years later, here are some resources and social initiatives available to support, lead, inspire, and fund Indigenous communities in Canada as they undertake their entrepreneurial journey. The good thing is that many of these options are stackable—they can be combined to help ensure Indigenous entrepreneurs maximize their resources and funding.

General support for Indigenous entrepreneurs 

Some initiatives and funding options for Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada are location- or community-based. However, some other options are more general and available to all Indigenous peoples in Canada, no matter where they are. 

National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association 

The NACCA offers an Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit business owners by providing funding through Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs). 

NACCA aims to stimulate economic growth while increasing social and economic self-reliance and sustainability for Indigenous communities nationwide. So far, it has provided over 50,000 loans totalling over $3 billion to businesses owned by Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Indigenous Services Canada

This is another option for Indigenous businesses. A branch of the federal government, they offer financial relief to small and medium-sized Indigenous businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The emergency funding of up to $40,000 is available. It includes an interest-free portion up to $30,000 and a non-repayable contribution up to $10,000. To qualify, applicants must be current or former clients of an AFI. 

ISC also offers an Indigenous Community Business Fund to support First Nations, Inuit, or Metis entrepreneurs based in the provinces.

Support for Canadian Indigenous youth and young adult entrepreneurs

For some Indigenous communities, including some in Nunavut, the word “youth” officially extends beyond the age of 18 years and is often used to describe people until the age of 25 or 30.

Futurpreneur

Futurpreneur offers support to aspiring Indigenous business owners living in Canada between the ages of 18 and 39. This organization offers funding up to $60,000 to launch or buy a business. Futurpreneur also provides new entrepreneurs with an expert mentor for up to two years, as well as other business resources. Futurpreneur works with a range of partners to support young, Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program

Since 2007 the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program run by the Martin Family Initiative helps students learn how to create a successful future in entrepreneurship. It introduces students to business opportunities in Canada, while teaching them financial literacy and communication skills. Most importantly, it teaches students self-confidence and that their ideas matter.

Support for Canadian Indigenous women entrepreneurs

Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship (IWE)

The NACCA also offers a program specifically for Indigenous women entrepreneurs. The IWE program helps create a pathway to entrepreneurship, so Indigenous women to participate in the development of their communities. The NACCA is committed to increasing the number of Indigenous women involved in business development and by 2025 aims to increase the number of Indigenous women entrepreneurs accessing funding by 50 per cent.

Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business also offers its own Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship Fund to businesses that might not have access to traditional funding options This micro-finance program offers up to $4,000 to support Indigenous women-owned businesses registered in Canada. Finance is offered at zero per cent interest and must be repaid within 36 months.

Support for northern Indigenous entrepreneurs

In the territories, there are several options for Indigenous business loans and entrepreneurial support, depending on where you live or where you come from. 

Nunavut

Kakivak Association is available to those in the Qikiqtaaluk region, Kivalliq Inuit Association is available to those in the Kivalliq, and Kitikmeot Association is for those in the Kitikmeot.

Kakivak offers Makigiaqvik loans of up to $50,000 in secured term loans with a fixed interest rate of 8.5 per cent and repayment schedules up to seven years.

Sivimmut Grants to Small Businesses offers up to $5,000 for business pre-start-up, $10,000 for business start-up, $10,000 for business expansion, with a maximum of $25,000 in total grants per business, as well as business training and support.

Northwest Territories 

The Metis Dene Development Fund is available to local Indigenous northerners to increase Dene access to capital and business expertise. This fund is offered through the Denendeh Development Corporation which has a 50 per cent interest in the MDDF. It has been available since 1991 and can provide loans from a $5.8 million portfolio to majority-owned Indigenous businesses.

Yukon

däna Näye Ventures is the local support system for Indigenous entrepreneurs. Since 1985, they have offered business development and financial services to all northerners living in the Yukon, including those who are Indigenous. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also offering an emergency loan program for Yukon businesses. It’s an aspect of their Indigenous Business Stabilization program.

Economic reconciliation is the way forward

Whether it is for business loans, funding, leadership, training, administrative support, or basic entrepreneurial guidance, there are several initiatives available to Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada. These are just some of the many options available.

In order to have a holistic and meaningful reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous populations, economic reconciliation is needed. This is in tandem with the efforts of corporate Canada to mentor, fund, and support Indigenous entrepreneurs as we reach for a more diverse entrepreneurial environment. There are resources available to help rebuild the economy— one with an equitable representation of Canada’s varied cultural landscape and an emphasis on the peoples who know this land and its complicated history best.


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