Opening the Door to New Opportunities in the Indigenous Business Space

The last few years have witnessed tremendous growth in the Indigenous economy, with more communities and entrepreneurs involved in land, resource and retail development than ever before. Economic reconciliation has become more than a hopeful catch phase, it is now a reality, and with that comes the need for appropriate and respectful engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses.

Advanced Business Match (ABM) is a leader in facilitating relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous business; relationships built on acknowledgement, trust and integrity. With events held across Canada, our business-matching forum has built a dynamic network of participants, all focused on mutual success.

Our co-producer Qwastånayå (L. Maynard Harry) has helped steer ABM’s growth through his sharing of the Indigenous history, legacy and business culture. A former Chief of the Tla’amin Nation, Qwastånayå led his community in a movement that resulted in the May 10, 2003 signing of the historic Community Accord between the Tla’amin Nation and the City of Powell River. He has since founded Indigenous Insight, a company devoted to providing Indigenous engagement and cultural awareness advisory services for non-Indigenous business.

Here’s his advice to open the door to new opportunities in the Indigenous business space:

  • When attending meetings or conferences, it’s more and more common to hear an opening prayer provided by a local First Nation Elder as well as an acknowledgement of the traditional territory where the event is taking place. Opening prayers are not meant as religious messages but to convey wisdom and strength. They allow to be still for a minute and focus before jumping into business action.  For the non-Indigenous decision maker, they are also a mark of respect for the people who first occupied the land.
  • Those businesses operating on provincial crown land should be aware that Aboriginal/Indigenous rights and title remain unextinguished in more than 90% of British Columbia (BC). They are encouraged to demonstrably acknowledge (i.e. either in written or verbal format) those rights and title. Every First Nation in BC is developing its own administrative department that will work to ensure its Aboriginal rights and title are protected and accommodated.
  • If your business is interested in establishing a business relationship with a particular First Nation, it’s best to contact that First Nation’s economic and business development office instead of contacting its Chief and Council. You would not start with a Mayor either. Bear in mind that some First Nations have delegated their economic development portfolio to a Tribal Council of which they are a member. Just ask the question who you need to talk to.
  • Educate yourself regarding some misconceptions that may still exist today. Section 87 of the Indian Act does provide tax exemptions for income earned on-reserve; gasoline, tobacco, food and alcohol bought on-reserve, but all First Nation peoples pay taxes. Status Indians living and working off-reserve pay income tax. First Nation-owned corporations and businesses located on-reserve do not qualify for section 87 tax exemptions. In addition to this, all First Nation communities are significant economic drivers in their regions and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to local, regional and provincial economies. This is includes the payment of taxes.
  • Find out who First Nation people really are and what type of historical challenges they have overcome (i.e. Indian Act, Indian Reserve System, the Indian Residential School System). Find out what type of challenges exist today (i.e. human resource capacity, training, employment). Find out what type of opportunities exist. Learn about reconciliation. The best way to do this is to invest into a peer mentorship relationship with an Indigenous person who may have complementing business interests. Engage in an honest conversation with the goal to find the commonalities and fill knowledge gaps. This creates the expertise to engage in productive dialogue. Be clear about your motivations. We are talking business here so being transparent that you want to improve your bottom line is ok but like in any other business negotiation, be succinct and real when explaining the mutual win. And do understand that Indigenous decision makers can be cynical and cautious. You would be, too.
  • Read Lynda Gray’s First Nations 101.
  • Sponsor an event in an Indigenous community. Many communities welcome outside involvement. Take it one step further and volunteer your time. That may be how you find your peer mentor.
  • Also consider advertising in that First Nation’s community newsletter, hand-delivered to each individual household.
  • Avoid using the following colonial terms: ‘Indian’ (replace with ‘Indigenous’; ‘Indian Reserve’ (replace with ‘community’ or neighbour’); ‘band office’ (replace with ‘governance building’ or ‘admin center’).

“Finally, don’t be intimidated by approaching Indigenous communities,” says Qwastånayå. “Ask lots of questions and remain open. By engaging in mutual understanding of each other’s culture and goals we can create positive relationships with successful outcomes. Indigenous peoples are ready to do business and welcome your interest. Registering for an Advanced Business Match event is an efficient way to meet communities and businesses who are actively looking for new partners, markets and suppliers. It is a network of peers doing business in the Indigenous space. ”

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