Entrepreneurship is on the rise across Canada, and most notably so in Indigenous communities. In 2016, more than 43,000 Indigenous people declared themselves self-employed, according to a survey conducted by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. For many Indigenous entrepreneurs, despite the challenges and barriers in access to tools, networks and resources, starting a business is key to giving back to their communities – through employment, services, opportunities – and enhancing the rich cultural heritage of the nation.
As Canada celebrates National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day, we put the #FuturHighFive spotlight on a couple of Indigenous entrepreneurs who are making an impact with their Futurpreneur-supported businesses and contributing to the preservation and awareness of the nation’s history.
|Raven Reads is an Indigenous literary subscription box that ships curated books and gifts crafted by Indigenous artists every season. The idea came out of a book club Nicole started at work that focused exclusively on books written by Indigenous authors.
“I started to see how reading these stories helped people to start to connect the dots between the historical and contemporary context. Whether it was fiction or non-fiction, it helped people start to understand a bit of the context around inter-generational trauma and things they just didn’t know much about,” says Nicole.
“I did about a year of research compiling my business plan so I knew the business model worked well but I was just really worried about the Indigenous specific content. When you choose to start a business that’s very centric on anything to do with Indigenous, you need to just always be sensitive to how you’re marketing your product. You want to be making sure that you’re authentically supporting that issue and giving back to that issue as you go along.”
Since launching in 2017, Raven Reads has grown to more than 500 subscribers across North America and Europe as Nicole continues to take an active role in bridging mutual understanding, respect and awareness between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Dedicated to giving back to the community, in 2018 Raven Reads donated a portion of sales to the First Nations Caring Society, a non-profit organization that works with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of all ages and organizations to ensure First Nations children and young people have the same opportunities as others to grow up safely at home, be healthy, and achieve their dreams.
“Start small, and really test as much as you possibly can. Don’t just rush in to launching because there’s a lot of things you will not learn until you actually start.”
Follow Nicole at @raven_reads
Kendal Netmaker is the founder and CEO of Neechie Gear, a purpose-driven clothing company that gives a portion of its proceeds to support access to and participation in sport for underprivileged children.
As a child, Kendal was skilled in soccer, but didn’t have the means to participate in local sport. Until a friend’s family reached out to provide the support that would open up opportunities for Kendal.
Driven by a passion to make the same opportunities available for other children, Kendal started Neechie Gear with a core purpose to give back to youth in communities by encouraging and supporting participation in sport.
“Being able to witness people wearing and appreciating our clothing and the social aspects we support is so powerful,” says Kendal.
Kendal grew up on Sweetgrass First Nation, Saskatchewan, and as a tribute to his past, named his business after a slang form of “my friend” in the Plains Cree language.
On a mission to empower youth through sports, Neechie Gear donates 5% of net profits to helps kids play and participate in sporting activities.
“Although intimidating at first, networking in person is critical to growing your business. Like everything, it takes practice and patience to get the hang of and it doesn’t hurt to have an elevator pitch ready because you never know what kind of person you will meet who may be able to help your business in the future.”
Follow Kendal at @neechiegear