Where are you from?
“I grew up in Victoria. My family is from Alert Bay though; everyone started moving away when fishing and logging stopped. I grew up in Victoria my entire life, but obviously always went back to Alert Bay to visit my granddad, go to potlatches and play in soccer tournaments, that kind of stuff.
My dad used to be a social worker here for a few of the nations on the Southern Island. So it was kinda cool, as a kid, I got to go to a lot of events on reserves and that’s how I ended up feeling comfortable applying to run a business in Songhees Nation territory.”
Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I grew up around entrepreneurs. My dad stopped his job as a social worker and became an entrepreneur and then a lot of family friends have their own businesses. I wanted to be hands-on: do things and improve things my way and I think that’s how you realize you’re an entrepreneur. If you’re that person that wants to fix things and if you’re a risk-taker.
That always stuck with me because yeah, I am taking risks. Nothing’s guaranteed. Your salary isn’t guaranteed, you’re not guaranteed that this won’t flop. You have to take those risks. I think that’s what drove me there, because I wanted to a) grow this kind of business in a certain way and b) I was willing to take the risks to get there.”
Since beginning my work for ABM, I’ve been in collaboration with a lot of different organizations and I’ve yet to meet a more driven demographic than Indigenous entrepreneurs when it comes to doing business. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about that.
“Do you know any Indigenous people that come from family money? I don’t. I grew up in the city; I’m a city kid. I’m just lucky my parents made it a point to constantly keep me in touch with where I’m from, but I did grow up around these kids that never worried about money and I was worried about money; worried about where the next paycheck was coming from. There’s an instability that comes from that [colonial] legacy.
As a next generation person, I think the hustle has been turned up for all of us. We all want to succeed for the generations beyond us and for indigenous people in general; to create a good foundation.”
What drives you to stay an entrepreneur?
“To be honest, the easy simple answer is that I enjoy the freedom of it. There are other jobs I could have had, other career paths, but nothing provides me the freedom this does. I enjoy the time I put into it because I enjoy the challenges. Also, as an Indigenous person, I do cultural things. If I have the opportunity to go on a trip, I can just take that week off. If I need a Friday off for a potlatch, I’m going to do that. This affords me that freedom other systems wouldn’t quite.”
There are still some challenges though, right?
“Oh, of course. I work a ton, all the time. Woke up this morning and had 40 emails and went, “What the hell happened. It’s Friday.” You know, and then there’s cash flow. Trying to grow and set up systems to enable that growth at the same time as running the business; it’s extremely hard. I work at night so I don’t get distracted by all the phone calls, inquiries, so many things… I talk about this to my friends and how they get to leave their work at the door. I own my own business and I work at night, so there’s the trade-off. The challenges are real, but it’s the only way you get to do this.”
I want to go back to something you said earlier: about the entrepreneur experience as an Indigenous person. Can you speak to that a little more?
“I find that when I talk about entrepreneurship with other Indigenous people, there’s more of a conversation about intangible things. What are you giving back to the community, why are you doing this, who are the people you’re doing this for, how good is what you’re offering? When I started my business, I thought it would be nice to carve my own path and make money. But now that I’m actually doing it, I don’t pay attention to that stuff. Indigenous entrepreneurs, I find, have a much more holistic approach to things. It’s not just about dollars.”
I would definitely agree with that, from my own experiences working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses. Why do you think that’s the case?
“I think that’s because profit is the only thing that should mean something to non-Indigenous businesses. Well, it’s changing and that’s an unfair generalization to make, but that is a core principle of capitalism. Capitalism is something that’s always number 2 or 3 to Indigenous people because it hasn’t been relevant to the wellbeing of our communities. Now it is relevant and that’s why we’re seeing more Indigenous businesses. It’s a way forward; where I can economically stimulate my community and become a driver for our own economy. Not my economy. Ours. I’m doing this to eventually provide jobs for young Indigenous people. History is history because it happened and the results aren’t all bad.”
I really agree with that. While the colonial legacy is crippling in many ways and there’s an immense number of wrongs to be righted, our communities have produced a generation of incredibly effective Indigenous entrepreneurs.