Opinion: Alberta Indigenous Entrepreneurs Vital to Canada’s Economic Development


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June is National Indigenous History Month. It is pertinent to involve indigenous entrepreneurs in this important festival. First Nations, Inuit and Metis business owners provide a job-creation engine that perpetuates a culture and heritage unique to our social fabric.

Indigenous owned and operated businesses also strengthen the economies of Alberta and Canada with valuable services and products.

It is our duty to help these entrepreneurs innovate and thrive.

As part of this year’s celebrations, Sodexo Canada calls on Canadians to focus on the importance of Indigenous businessesThrough a national lager survey. The findings show broad recognition of the value created by Canada’s more than 60,000 Indigenous entrepreneurs and strong support for concerted action by the private sector to help them reach their full potential.

• 79 percent of Canadians believe that indigenous participation in the economy strengthens the country’s social fabric.

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• Supporting strong indigenous businesses is also seen by 76 percent as a way to heal ties with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Lifting indigenous people out of poverty should be a national priority. Canada is home to a growing indigenous population of 1.6 million. Many people face discrimination, poverty and pathetic living conditions on the reserves.

It is clearly in Canada’s best interest to foster a strong indigenous trade sector capable of creating sustainable economic opportunities for its people. And most of the responding Canadians believe it.

Related to more resources to support Indigenous business owners, the survey found:

• 71 percent of Canadians want the private sector to come forward to help indigenous entrepreneurs take their business to the next level.

• 77 percent agree that corporations should include indigenous businesses in their supplier networks whenever possible.

• And 71 percent believe that actions such as training and mentoring should be a long-term strategy for Canadian corporations to help Indigenous business owners.

There has been a steady increase in the number of Indigenous businesses since 2000. This emerging sector is well positioned to deepen its economic footprint.

As a leading voice in the indigenous economy, CCAB has conducted specific research on indigenous entrepreneurs. We know from CCAB’s 2019 Tribal Business Survey data that indigenous entrepreneurs set up businesses in every province and region in a range of industries, including the service sector (54 percent), the secondary sector (21 percent), natural resources (13). percent) and construction (12 percent).

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Given that the CCAB survey was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic, 39 percent of Indigenous entrepreneurs surveyed experienced increases in revenue between 2018 and 2019. Most (56 per cent) of those who said their revenue had increased over the previous year, registered a growth of more than 20 per cent.

An upcoming CCAB research report indicates that indigenous business owners also value innovation. More than half (54 percent) of entrepreneurs surveyed reported launching new products or services, processes, or spending money on research and experimental development. Nearly half (43 percent) of entrepreneurs surveyed reported introducing new products or services in the past three years. A third (32%) started new procedures. Twenty-five percent spent money on R&D.

Nevertheless, indigenous entrepreneurs face unique challenges. They report that there is a need for greater access to capital, qualified indigenous workforce, skills training, investment, technical and business information and advice.

One of the most pressing challenges is the urgent need for skill training initiatives. Fully two-thirds of indigenous business owners cite difficulties finding qualified indigenous workers.

Canada’s private sector needs to prioritize indigenous entrepreneurs. Our experience is that everyone benefits when business strategies are based on inclusion.

As we celebrate National Indigenous History Month, Canadians are delighted to see what we have long known: the Indigenous business sector has much to offer its people, economy and society in general. With the right resources, the opportunities are limitless.

Tabatha Bull is President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and Irwin Josten is Senior Vice President, Energy and Resources, Sodexo Canada.

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