Indigenous entrepreneurship: Making a business case for reconciliation


As a younger woman, Jenn Harper visited the Toronto Eaton Centre many occasions.

Though she liked procuring, Harper, who’s now the CEO of Cheekbone Magnificence, primarily based in St. Catharines, Ont., mentioned that “among the issues I keep in mind had been racism, like, folks accusing us of stealing.”

Harper, who’s Anishinaabe, is a member of the Northwest Angle #33 First Nation in Kenora, Ont., on the western fringe of the province.

At the moment her heritage is on the core of her cosmetics line, with sustainability a key function.

“In 5 years, we went from being in a nook in my basement to being in Sephora Canada,” she mentioned, referring to the key magnificence merchandise retailer. “That is fairly wild.”

Previous suspicious retailer clerks take notice: Cheekbone will probably be in 50 Sephora shops throughout the nation by early subsequent 12 months. Its merchandise are already stocked in 15 of them, together with on the Toronto Eaton Centre, and it hits the cabinets of JC Penney shops in the USA this fall.

WATCH | Cosmetics firm a hit for Indigenous entrepreneur:

The journey from $500 to 7 figures with Cheekbone Magnificence

Jenn Harper, the founder and CEO of Cheekbone Magnificence, talks about how she hopes her success convinces buyers to help different Indigenous entrepreneurs.

The corporate is one among roughly 60,000 Indigenous companies within the nation, in keeping with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Enterprise.

Finest recognized in such sectors as fishing, forestry and different sources, Indigenous entrepreneurs are shifting into non-traditional sectors like trend, IT, advertising and transportation. In accordance with specialists, that growth is a key part of financial reconciliation, and the event of latest enterprise alternatives will profit not solely First Nations communities however all of Canada.

The Nationwide Day for Reality and Reconciliation, which is marked on Sept. 30, is devoted to reflecting on the painful legacy of Canada’s residential college system and honouring the youngsters who died, in addition to survivors and households.

However reconciliation additionally entails enterprise, as outlined in No. 92 of the Reality and Reconciliation Fee’s 94 calls to motion. 

A path to a $100B Indigenous economic system   

From her workplace in Victoria, Carol Anne Hilton mentioned she sees a “highly effective explosion of indigenous entrepreneurship” happening throughout Canada.

“It is superb to observe,” mentioned the CEO and founding father of the Indigenomics Institute and an adviser to enterprise, governments and First Nations.

A Hesquiaht lady of Nuu-chah-nulth descent, Hilton has a world MBA and has written a ebook on economics and First Nations known as Indigenomics: Taking a Seat on the Financial Desk.

Indigenous folks contributed virtually $50 billion to Canada’s economic system in 2020.

Carol Anne Hilton, the Victoria-based CEO and founding father of the Indigenomics Institute, advises enterprise, governments and First Nations. She says she’s excited to see an ‘explosion of indigenous entrepreneurship’ in Canada. (Submitted by Carol Anne Hilton )

Hilton predicts that the Indigenous economic system may rapidly surge to $100 billion a 12 months in Canada if governments and companies made adjustments to their insurance policies and enterprise practices to be extra inclusive and have interaction with First Nations firms in such areas as procurement, commerce, funding and social finance.

Entrepreneurs play a significant position within the Indigenous economic system by offering progress alternatives but additionally by creating a brand new cultural narrative, Hilton mentioned.

A long time of financial isolation on reserves and unemployment amongst many First Nations folks in city areas implies that a imaginative and prescient of Indigenous potential and prosperity isn’t seen.

Laying out the trail to a $100-billion Indigenous economic system “establishes a technique to see ourselves in our personal future,” Hilton mentioned.

Aiming excessive

For Teara Fraser, the founder and lead government of Iskwew Air (pronounced ISS-KWAY-YO), entrepreneurship is an choice that fits each her abilities and her spirit.

“It isn’t a straightforward pathway, however there’s a variety of liberty,” mentioned Fraser, who’s Métis and began her airline in 2018 providing constitution and cargo companies.

In August, the corporate, primarily based at Vancouver Worldwide Airport in Richmond, B.C., celebrated its first anniversary of scheduled flights to Qualicum Seashore Airport on Vancouver Island.

Teara Fraser is the founding father of Iskwew Air, primarily based on the Vancouver Worldwide Airport. The Métis entrepreneur began her airline in 2018 providing constitution and cargo companies. (Jeffrey Bosdet)

With two planes and a rising workforce, Fraser mentioned working her personal enterprise has uplifted her household and her neighborhood.

She additionally acknowledges how she is representing success.

“The idea of see it to be it — it will probably change all the things when our narrative adjustments.”

Cheekbone’s Harper has had the identical highly effective feeling.

She was again on the Toronto Eaton Centre this summer time, launching a brand new product line at Sephora.

Her favorite a part of the day occurred when an Indigenous woman was perched in one of many retailer’s make-up chairs.

Harper helped the younger buyer apply some blush. Speak then turned to the woman’s personal desires and plans. She mentioned she believes the little chat might be an enormous deal if it helped the woman see that turning into a enterprise chief was potential.

“Once I was a child, I may by no means think about ever that even being a chance for me,” she mentioned.

At a launch occasion for a brand new product line, Harper of Cheekbone Magnificence shares a particular second over make-up with an Indigenous woman. When Harper, who’s Anishinaabe, was younger, she by no means met an entrepreneur with a First Nations heritage or imagined a profession in enterprise. (Cheekbone Magnificence )

Cash and momentum

Financing is fuelling the expansion of Indigenous entrepreneurship, and Hilton mentioned new funding channels centered on First Nations enterprise are a essential a part of reconciliation.

For example, she factors to Raven Indigenous Capital Companions, which has places of work in Vancouver and Ottawa.

The agency says it takes an “Indigenous culture-centred method to impression investing” and was the important thing early investor in Cheekbone Magnificence.

Raven simply introduced its second funding spherical, with plans to offer $75 million in financing for Indigenous companies.   

A brand new micro-loan program, the Ladies Entrepreneurship Mortgage Fund, was additionally launched by the Nationwide Aboriginal Capital Firms Affiliation (NACCA), this month.  A community of greater than 50 Aboriginal Monetary Establishments (AFIs) — that are Indigenous managed and neighborhood primarily based — NACCA says it is offered $3 billion in loans to 50,000 small and medium-sized companies owned by First Nations, Métis and Inuit folks over three many years.

One other funding alternative comes with Bears’ Lair, a TV present very like CBC’s Dragon’s Den during which the entire contestants and judges are Indigenous. It debuted earlier this month on the Aboriginal Peoples Tv Community.

The mix of cash and the rising momentum of First Nations entrepreneurs provides Hilton hope that the Indigenous economic system is on a roll and can overcome the colonial historical past of exclusion.

“Financial inclusion is all the things,” she mentioned.

Assist is offered for anybody affected by their expertise at residential colleges or by the newest reviews.

A nationwide Indian Residential College Disaster Line has been set as much as present help for survivors and people affected. Individuals can entry emotional and disaster referral companies by calling the 24-hour nationwide disaster line: 1-866-925-4419.

Psychological well being counselling and disaster help can be obtainable 24 hours a day, seven days every week via the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by on-line chat at


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