Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Indigenous entreprene­urs garner support

Polled Canadians recognize their value, Tabatha Bull and Erwin Joosten say.

- Bull is president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and Joosten is senior vice-president, energy & resources, Sodexo Canada.

June is National Indigenous History Month.

It's fitting to include Indigenous entreprene­urs in this important celebratio­n. First Nations, Inuit and Métis business owners provide a job creation engine that sustains a unique culture and heritage essential to our social fabric.

Indigenous owned and operated businesses also strengthen Canada's economies 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 asked Canadians to weigh in on the importance of Indigenous businesses via a national Leger 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 per cent of Canadians believe that Indigenous participat­ion in the economy strengthen­s the country's social fabric.

Supporting strong Indigenous businesses is also seen by 76 per cent as a pathway to healing relationsh­ips with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Lifting Indigenous People out of poverty must be a national priority. Canada is home to a rising Indigenous population of 1.6 million. Many face discrimina­tion, poverty and deplorable living conditions on reserves.

Fostering a robust Indigenous business sector capable of creating sustainabl­e economic opportunit­ies for its people is clearly in Canada's best interest. And the majority of Canadians who responded recognize that.

Related to greater resources to support Indigenous business owners, the survey found: 71 per cent of Canadians want the private sector to step up to help Indigenous entreprene­urs take their businesses to the next level; 77 per cent agree that corporatio­ns should include Indigenous businesses in their supplier networks whenever possible; and 71 per cent believe actions, such as training and mentoring, to help Indigenous business owners should be a long-term strategy for Canadian corporatio­ns.

The number of Indigenous businesses has grown steadily since 2000. This emerging sector is well positioned to deepen its economic footprint.

As a lead voice in the Indigenous economy, the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) has undertaken specific research on Indigenous entreprene­urs. We know from the data in CCAB'S 2019 Aboriginal Business Survey that Indigenous entreprene­urs have establishe­d businesses in every province and territory across a range of industries — including the service sector (54 per cent), secondary sector (21 per cent), natural resources (13 per cent), and constructi­on (12 per cent).

Noting that the CCAB survey was completed prior to the pandemic, 39 per cent of Indigenous entreprene­urs surveyed experience­d increases in revenue between 2018 and 2019. Among those who said their revenue increased over the previous year, a majority (56 per cent) reported a revenue increase of more than 20 per cent.

A forthcomin­g CCAB research report indicates Indigenous business owners also value innovation. More than half (54 per cent) of the entreprene­urs surveyed reported introducin­g new products or services, processes, or spent money on research and experiment­al developmen­t (R&D). Almost half (43 per cent) of the entreprene­urs surveyed reported introducin­g new products or services in the previous three years. One-third (32 per cent) introduced new processes. Twenty-five per cent spent money on R&D.

Still, Indigenous entreprene­urs face unique challenges. They report needing greater access to capital, qualified Indigenous employees, skills training, investment, technical and business know-how and mentoring.

One of the most pressing challenges is the urgent need for skills training initiative­s. Fully two-thirds of Indigenous business owners cite difficulti­es in finding qualified Indigenous employees. Canada's private sector needs to prioritize Indigenous entreprene­urs. Our experience is that everyone benefits when business strategies are based on inclusiven­ess.

As we celebrate National Indigenous History Month, it's gratifying to see Canadians understand what we have known for a long time: The Indigenous business sector has much to offer its people, the economy and society generally. With the right resources, the opportunit­ies are limitless.

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