Feb. 8, 2001 Vol . 20, No. 3

Aboriginal business needs poorly served

By Diane Luckow

British Columbia's aboriginal entrepreneurs have unique business needs that are often poorly served, a recent study by SFU's community economic development centre found.

The study, commissioned jointly by Western Economic Diversification and the B.C. ministry of Small Business, Tourism, and Culture, surveyed aboriginal entrepreneurs in B.C. and involved focus groups in Terrace, Kamloops, Ladysmith, Vancouver and Prince George. Businesses ranged from the self-employed to large enterprises employing 80 people in the forestry, transportation, construction, tourism and arts and crafts industries. B.C. boasts nearly one-quarter of all aboriginal businesses in Canada – almost 5,000 out of about 20,000 overall.

While all entrepreneurs require access to good business information, aboriginal entrepreneurs need information that focuses on their unique situation, says project manager and SFU graduate student Kelly Vodden.

"They face different barriers to financing, with the inability to get mortgages based on their homes on reserves," she points out. "They also face taxation issues which are quite different." Communications into remote areas are often poor. And, says Vodden, many aboriginals have a fragile sense of self-confidence about their abilities as business people – a situation which can be worsened by their community culture, which in many cases doesn't support the notion of individual entrepreneurial activity.
Despite the hurdles, entrepreneurial activities among aboriginals is growing and is of particular interest to the large numbers of aboriginal youth entering the workforce. "The increasing interest in entrepreneurship is a necessity where people have been displaced from traditional sectors like fishing," says Vodden. In fact, a greater proportion of aboriginal Canadian youth than non-aboriginal Canadian youth are self-employed.

Among the study's recommendations are calls for more information focusing on aboriginals; better service delivery to remote areas; an increased cultural sensitivity among non-aboriginal service providers; and more networking among the businesses themselves.

"We also recommended that an aboriginal economic development strategy for B.C. be developed," says Vodden, "which would include business services and how they're delivered and would require various organizations involved in information delivery to coordinate their services."

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