Accelerating First Peoples' businesses across the North
By Diane Luckow
Yellowknife jeweller Tania Larsson spends six weeks each year using traditional methods to tan moose and caribou hides. She then uses these hides in her handmade jewellery designs, which range in price from $100 to $3,000.
A member of North America’s northernmost First Nation, Gwich’in, in the Northwest Territories, Larsson has established an online jewellery business, Tanialarsson.com. She’s one of nine northern entrepreneurs to join EntrepreNorth, a new, six-month entrepreneurial education program offered in partnership with RADIUS SFU’s First Peoples Enterprise Accelerator Program (FPEAP).
EntrepreNorth focuses on Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs, with this first cohort featuring entrepreneurs who sell marine- and land- based products.
The program combines online coursework with three, week-long, face- to-face sessions in each of three northern towns: Yellowknife (NT), Iqaluit (NU), and Whitehorse (YT). Participants are also paired with a business mentor and a life coach.
The FPEAP was established in 2015 after RADIUS, a social innovation hub in the SFU Beedie School of Business, received 10 years of funding from the RBC Foundation to support Indigenous entrepreneurship. The program is striving to be a catalyst and a resource for fostering sustainable economic growth and diversi cation in Indigenous communities.
Last year, RADIUS partnered with EntrepreNorth, which offers programs across Northern Canada to help Indigenous entrepreneurs build sustainable businesses. Together, the two organizations are working on the challenging task of bringing an Indigenous emphasis to business education.
“Right now, there’s no real solution to decolonizing or indigenizing entrepreneurial programming,” says Candice Day, FPEAP’s manager.
But after running two previous FPEAP cohorts, RADIUS is beginning to recognize some important aspects of Indigenous businesses that differ from colonial business practices.
For example, says Day, “Most Indigenous enterprises incorporate a cultural and community focus. It’s not just about trying to make money.”
And that social-impact perspective can be difficult when Indigenous entrepreneurs seek funding from investors who don’t have the same values.
“So what we’d like to do, over time, is learn to communicate those Indigenous values by using new language that can translate this worldview to others, and showcase the inherent knowledge that Indigenous entrepreneurs carry.”
Larsson says the program is doing a good job of incorporating an Indigenous lens into its business lessons.
“What was really exciting for me was talking to other entrepreneurs,” she says. “It’s very bene cial for us to share our perspective—what’s important to us, our world viewpoint, and how it relates to business. That’s such a unique perspective that they’ve succeeded in creating and fostering in the program.”