Jeff and William approached me in the fall of 2019 about helping with their ecotourism business. They started the business in 2014 and wanted help growing it and getting more clients.
They felt if they could share their traditions and culture with the world, they could provide meaningful jobs for the youth of their community.
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate last summer for Indigenous youth was a whopping 26 per cent. Jeff and William recognize that without work, their youth lack purpose.
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They also told me that jobs outside of the community were good, but many of the young people in their community had difficulty taking jobs in nearby communities because they had trouble getting drivers’ licences. Unable to drive the 60 km to the nearest town for work, they were stuck on the reserve.
Jeff and William thought that providing work would solve some of the challenges faced by their community’s youth.
Recently I was helping on a city sandwich line and asked people why they were in such desperate need. Many were shocked but excited that someone cared enough to ask. The responses were varied, including traumatic experiences, but one underlying theme was an inability to find work.
The current unsuccessful government model is to give people money to stay home. Most people don’t want to live on handouts. They want to be engaged in jobs that have purpose and make a difference. Everybody wants the opportunity to earn a living and be proud of what they do.
It’s in poverty that we reach out in desperation for socially unacceptable activities that often result in disturbing consequences for ourselves and the community around us.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to work doesn’t exist in many First Nations communities. There are a number of reasons for this, some of which are complex.
For generations, Canadian governments have projected the view that jobs on reserves compete with off-reserve businesses. At one point, people in First Nations communities weren’t even allowed to sell their vegetables or produce off reserve lands. Talk about putting a damper on entrepreneurial spirits.
Like many passionate entrepreneurs starting a business, Jeff and William need some basic understandings about what’s required for a venture to succeed. Jeff took some college courses in order to understand the ecotourism and guiding businesses. However, he and William needed more marketing and basic business knowledge to successfully operate the business, to fulfil their vision of supporting the community.
This is only one of the challenges that Indigenous entrepreneurs face.
If we business leaders are really concerned about supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs like William and Jeff, we need to find ways to encourage entrepreneurs on and off reserves with initiatives that teach them necessary business skills to help communities for generations.
- share our knowledge about business, and build up capacity through mentorship and coaching;
- look at what our business does with third-party suppliers and see if there’s an Indigenous service or product provider that we can shift some of our purchases to;
- look for opportunities to encourage entrepreneurship in First Nations communities;
- help Indigenous people identify and grow their skills, to enable them to create jobs and meaningful work.
In the end, our support of Jeff and William and their Dunne Za Backcountry Adventures company enabled them to take their business to the next level.
However, it can’t stop there. If Canadians are serious about ending the poverty cycle of our First Nations brothers and sisters, we need to find opportunities to support these entrepreneurs, not just with lip service but with actual purchases.
Supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs might be much more complex than a handout or subsidy, but the effects are longer lasting.