5 things to know when working with Indigenous business owners: IndigenousConsulting.com founder
Tabatha Bull was pleased with some of the items highlighted in the Liberal party platform when it comes to Indigenous economic issues, but said a lot will hinge on how those pledges pan out.
Her wish list from the federal government often circles back to breaking down barriers, so that Indigenous entrepreneurs have the same access to support systems as any other business owner, something that’s become even more pressing, she said, in the age of COVID.
“Initially with the emergency business account, you needed to have a prior relationship with a traditional financial institution,” said Bull, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses (CCAB), in an interview. “Only about 33 per cent of Indigenous entrepreneurs had one. So initially that was a barrier.”
Amid the pandemic, the Canada Emergency Business Account provided business loans of up to $40,000 for non-profits and small businesses. But it wasn’t designed for Indigenous entrepreneurs, Bull added.
“At first, you had to have a certain amount of payroll, but it was a taxable payroll line, and if you’re a First Nations business with First Nation employees you would report your payroll on another line. I don’t think [these hurdles] were intended but did delay the availability.”
According to research from the CCAB, a non-partisan group that supports Indigenous businesses, 70 per cent of Indigenous entrepreneurs have needed access to capital during the pandemic, but only about 50 per cent are applying.
“Part of that is barriers to application, part of it is they just can’t take on anymore debt at this time. Also a bit of a lack of awareness, as well, there are so many various programs and different application portals to go though, I think it’s been difficult for a number of business owners to find the right path,” said Bull.
PROMISES ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Following the gruesome discovery of unmarked graves at the former sites of several residential schools in Canada, Indigenous issues were pushed to the top of the agenda for party leaders and voters in the run-up to the Sept. 20 federal election.
Regarding Indigenous economic issues highlighted in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party platform, Bull said she was pleased with some of the items highlighted, but noted that more can be done.
One highlight flagged by Bull is a so-called navigator program, which will help Indigenous business owners find the right financial support program to suit their unique needs and avoid some of the aforementioned barriers.
Bull stressed the importance of communication between all government departments on the subject of Indigenous entrepreneurship, to ensure programs offered are as inclusive as possible.
“Often times we see that Indigenous economic development is funneled into Indigenous Services Canada, and we believe that Indigenous business is important to all ministries and organizations within the federal government.”
BULL’S WISH LIST
In early August, the federal government announced that it will require all government agencies and departments to allocate at least five per cent of their procurement contracts to Inuit, First Nations and Metis businesses. Bull said it’s a promising plan, but again, it will depend on how it gets rolled out.
In terms of missed opportunities, Bull pointed to the gender-based analyses the federal government conducts for all programs and initiatives to see how they will impact men, women and non-binary people. Bull said it would be greatly beneficial to conduct a similar assessment to gauge the potential benefit to Indigenous communities and business leaders.
ACCESS TO DIGITAL TRAINING
There’s a role for private corporations to play in empowering young Indigenous entrepreneurs, too, according to Bull. Much of that has to do with training to ensure business owners, many of whom are in the retail space, can adapt to shifting shopping trends.
“One thing we’re hearing from various surveys is a need for e-commerce training,” said Bull. “Both on building a platform, and marketing within the various platforms. Digital skills and digital marketing skills is a need.”
“As we stay in this e-commerce world, how do we ensure Indigenous businesses can tell their authentic story? How do we make sure voices are heard?”
The CCAB has been working with a host of tech companies, including the likes of Shopify, Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google. Shopify and Facebook, for their part, have been putting a spotlight on Indigenous vendors with a campaign titled #WeThrive.
Canada’s Indigenous revelation and ensuing period of mourning has lead to increased demand for Indigenous-made goods and has given Indigenous creators a moment in the spotlight. But it’s important for consumers to follow the money, said Bull.
If the business is a certified CCAB member, buyers can rest assured, as that guarantees the company is at least 51 per cent owned and operated by an Indigenous person or group.
For smaller businesses, like a retail vendor selling through various online marketplaces, Bull said its best just to reach out directly to ensure authenticity.
“You can reach out directly to that person if they’re an Indigenous entrepreneur. They’ll be passionate to share how it supports them and their community.”
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