Indigenous Women are Successful Entrepreneurs

Published on
March 3, 2021
Time to read: 
screenshot of moderator Jace Meyer from International Women's Day online event
Jace Meyer, the moderator for the Pathways to Leadership and Entrepreneurship - A Conversation with Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Women, International Women's Week event guides the question and answer period. This event was held on March 3, 2021 and co-hosted by the University of Ottawa Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the Idea Connector Network

Today, I had the honour of being one of five panelists in an International Women’s Week event co-hosted by the University of Ottawa Institute for Science, Society and Politics and the Idea Connector Network. The event was called “Pathways to Leadership and Entrepreneurship - A Conversation with Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Women.” Jace Meyer did a fabulous job moderating the 90-minute panel, and the question-and-answer period. This week’s post is based on my talk called “Indigenous Women are Successful Entrepreneurs.”

This is the first time I’ve participated in an event that was being live streamed on YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter.  A recording of the session is available on YouTube and here's the link to all the resources from that day.

I started with a brief acknowledgement that I’m grateful to live, learn, and work on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territory, also known as Quinte West, Ontario. I’m also grateful for the privilege of growing up in a military family, then serving in the military for 28 years. I acknowledge that I benefit from the privilege society grants me as a white coded cis gender heterosexual woman.

Over the past 8 years I’ve realized that the things I enjoyed doing most in the military, speaking, training and coaching can help others learn how to thrive. Since 2015, I’ve been delivering training on behalf of my strategic partners at the Canadian company Indigenous Link. I speak to their clients, mostly mainstream employers, about how to attract, recruit, hire and retain Indigenous employees. I also act as a Thought Partner to people who are changing careers and/or starting or growing their businesses. Sometimes my Thought Partners focus changes during our time together shifting from careers to entrepreneurship and vice versa.

Sharing success stories is one of the most powerful ways to help people learn, and to dispel negative stereotypes. The goal of my post is to share that Indigenous Women are succeeding in every profession and type of business in the lands we call Canada. I’ll illustrate this truth, by sharing a few examples, then I’ll briefly introduce you to three organizations providing resources to help Indigenous women grow and improve their businesses. While Indigenous Women are Successful Entrepreneurs, there are many stages to entrepreneurship, and we can all, no matter where we are on our journey, benefit from the help of others.

When you imagine a successful Indigenous woman entrepreneur what do you think of? Do images of gifted fashion and jewelry designers come to mind? If so, that’s a valid image, however there is much more to the story. While many Indigenous women are running businesses inspired by traditional clothing, foods, art and medicine, many of us run businesses based on our professions.

Vicky auf der Mauer is a proud Inuk woman, raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Vicky calls herself an Urban Inuk, as she now lives in Toronto, where she spent 13 years learning entrepreneurship in the restaurant industry, starting as a hostess, working her way to 5-star event manager for A-List celebrities, before co-founding Porchetta + Co. which has since grown to include 4 restaurant locations in downtown Toronto.

Vicky left the restaurant business to follow her dream, and became an intuitive life, business, and money mindset coach, helping clients, mainly Indigenous women, uncover the money beliefs that historically and currently hold us back, so that we can have a greater impact in our own life, our families’ lives, our work and our communities. Vicky created and delivers a program called Decolonizing Money.

Lisa Isaac is a Certified Human Resources Leader who started her career with human resources and leadership roles in the manufacturing, energy, and banking industries in Alberta, Nunavut, Ontario, and in her home community, Moose Deer Point First Nation, on Georgian Bay. Lisa is a University of Ottawa and University of Lethbridge alumni.

In 2018, Lisa became an entrepreneur starting a boutique Human Resources company in Sarnia, Ontario. Her company Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services is Certified as Aboriginal owned by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses (CCAB). Lisa and her team of 3 employees (from a diverse background) serve a variety of clients, including Indigenous communities and organizations from across the lands we call Canada, and non-Indigenous Northern Ontario businesses and organizations.

Karen MacKenzie is Cree/Metis. In 2003, she co-founded the International consulting company MacIntosh Canada, which is also a Certified Aboriginal Business. Karen and her team help people and organizations find where they are at presently and then provide direction, to help them reach their goals. Macintosh Canada provides services in four main areas:

  1. Community Development,
  2. Capacity Building,
  3. Workplace Readiness, and
  4. Consulting Services.

Karen holds an MBA from the University of Dalhousie and a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry from Saint Mary’s University.

Vicky, Lisa and Karen are a few examples of Indigenous women thriving as entrepreneurs based on their professional knowledge and lived experiences.

Now let’s shift the focus, there are dozens of programs offering to help Indigenous women thrive as Entrepreneurs and Leaders from coast to coast to coast. The rest of this blog focuses on three of these programs.

In 2020, the Native Women’s Association of Canada launched the #BeTheDrum Entrepreneur Navigation Program. This program includes one on one coaching sessions with the Entrepreneur Navigators (or in other words Mentors), a group of six women from a vast array of business backgrounds and lived experiences, from across the lands we call Canada.

The #BeThe Drum program offers a weekly group check-in, a weekly bookkeeping and finance session, online learning events, and conferences. My favourite part about the #BeTheDrum program is that the learning is based on where we are in our respective businesses. We learn from subject matter experts, the Entrepreneur Navigators and each other. The program also includes an Indigenous Women’s Business Directory.

Fed Dev Ontario provide Queen’s University and several partner organizations with funding to help aspiring and existing women entrepreneurs in the Greater Kingston Ontario region start and/or grow their businesses. The Women Entrepreneurs CAN project offers 20 programs serving a number of intersectional groups, including Indigenous women. The WE-CAN project partnered with Shyra Barberstock, co-founder of Okwaho Equal Source, to create the Kwe-Biz Supporting Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs program which offers:

  1. Business Accelerators cohorts,
  2. Business Workshops, and
  3. A Mentorship Program

Kwe-Biz is situated on the traditional territories of the Kahnien’kehàka (Mohawk) and Mississauga Anishinaabe peoples in southeastern Ontario.The Kwe-Biz program was designed by Okwaho Equal Source, a 100% Indigenous owned and operated business, proudly headquartered in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario. The co-founders are Kahnien’kehàka and Anishinaabe.

The PARO Centre, in Thunder Bay Ontario, offers an Enterprising Indigenous Women program to assist Indigenous women from remote and rural Northern Ontario communities. This program offers several services including, but not limited to:

  1. Financial support,
  2. Procurement opportunities, and
  3. On-going support from the idea phase, to launching, and operating a business

This blog, gives you an idea of the range of successful Indigenous Women entrepreneurs running businesses in the lands we call Canada. Each of the women mentioned here has found a different path to success.

Just as Canada has dozens of universities, there are many programs in place to help Indigenous women learn how to hone their entrepreneurial skills. There’s still room for more, as there is more than one way to learn. Sometimes we need to experience the same teachings from different sources before they resonate with us!