A Conversation About Indigenous Entrepreneurship

The following conversation is between Ace Harry and Ron Calliou.

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that capitalism has a lot to learn from Indigenous cultures. Relationships based on deep reciprocity, respect, and integrity sound pretty good, right? I found myself sharing this sentiment during a conversation with Onotinikew Business Group President, Ron Calliou.

“There’s huge importance , especially right now. Altogether we need each other; communities throughout Canada,” says Ron. It’s obvious that no single entity will be able to drag us all out of the economic fallout caused by COVID-19 and, not to diss the toilet paper hoarders too harshly, but as we’ve seen in disaster after disaster, a sense of togetherness is often the only efficient solution. And as Ron put it: “Indigenous people have done business with each other for millennia; much longer than colonialism. We do business from a community and a trust point of view. If it doesn’t benefit the community, there’s no reason to do business.” That last sentence is really important to me; mostly because I believe that mentality is often missing from our systems of economy and even governance.

“It’s apparent that the mainstream business world in the past has taken advantage of resources… We find that some resources have been taken from the land but there’s been no trade-off; there’s backpedalling, undercutting. So from a small indigenous business perspective, we have to be larger than life; we have to be an example that we can do this; that we can grow. With the advent of the internet and globalization, smaller companies can now enter the market and on our terms, not on the larger corporations’ terms.” To me, therein lies the essence of functional reconciliation.

It’s well-known that you’re not exactly bombarded with opportunities and positive reinforcement if you grow up Indigenous in Canada. This makes entrepreneurship an attractive route out of the many traps the Canadian government has historically, and systematically, laid for us. Cycles of poverty and dispossession enacted by racism get really tripped up by small Indigenous business and that gives me hope.

“Especially right now and going forward, we’re all at this interesting time of doing business. If you follow anything the CCAB has been talking about, they’ve been putting out annual reports and you’ll find that Indigenous business is growing by leaps and bounds… It’s not an overnight solution, but if you play the long game and really focus on that success, it will work out,” and, “Indigenous business is important because we can be the leaders going forward if we stick to our guns. We don’t have to be fully educated, just willing to do the work and break the stereotypes; drinking, lateral violence, laziness, all of that.” Not only are small Indigenous businesses valuable for the rebounding of this occupation’s economy, but they have more incentive than nearly anyone else to do well.

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