What defines an Indigenous business? A guide aims to weed out fronts and frauds

A coalition of Indigenous economic organizations wants the federal government to adopt new definitions of what constitutes Indigenous businesses and organizations into its procurement process.

“We know that there are shell companies that maybe have an Indigenous front person that’s being used really to access a lot of set-asides and procurement opportunities,” said Dawn Madahbee Leach, chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board and a member of the National Indigenous Procurement Working Group.

The new Indigenous Business Definitions were released by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) last week and developed by the National Indigenous Procurement Working Group, which consists of representatives of various Indigenous organizations, government departments, and industry associations.

In 2021, the federal government announced a government-wide procurement target of five per cent for Indigenous businesses. The federal government’s Indigenous Business Directory includes a list of Indigenous companies eligible for special consideration when bidding on some federal contracts.

The new guide provides criteria for Indigenous sole proprietorships, corporations, non-profits, charitable organizations, co-operatives, and partnerships.

Dawn Madahbee Leach is chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board and a member of the National Indigenous Procurement Working Group. (Submitted by Dawn Madahbee Leach)

Some of the criteria are similar to what is used by the federal government, such as requiring 51 per cent ownership and control by Indigenous people, while other definitions are tougher, said Madahbee Leach.

She hopes the definitions will help weed out businesses that aren’t Indigenous-led, false claims of Indigeneity and tokenism from opportunities meant for First Nations, Métis and Inuit.

“It’s going to make a difference to ensure that those set-asides that are meant for our people go to our people,” said Madahbee Leach.

“There’s so much opportunities to involve our people in Canada’s economy and procurement is one of the best ways.”

NACCA’s criteria for proof of Indigeneity excludes membership in some organizations the federal government’s Indigenous Business Directory criteria includes.

“We’ve contested that directory and we said we need to maintain it because we know how to determine Indigeneity way better than, you know, a civil servant,” said Madahbee Leach.

Controls versus barriers

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, which was part of the working group that developed the definitions, said it has concerns about the criteria around joint ventures and partnerships, and that the definitions require further work.

The guide’s criteria include agreements that define the Indigenous partner as “having the

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Paving the way for Indigenous business success

When Cowessess First Nation wanted to farm their own land in 2018, large non-Indigenous companies refused to extend them a line of credit, said former chief Cadmus Delorme.

It wasn’t that the land, about a 90-minute drive east of Regina, couldn’t be farmed. The First Nation had watched non-Indigenous farmers grow food on their land for years.

Instead, Delorme said, barriers laid out in the Indian Act stood in their way.

“The Indian Act is not business-friendly,” Delorme said.

When the act was created, Canada’s policy was to eliminate the Indigenous worldview, including the economies of Indigenous people, he said. Despite revisions, some sections of the act, such as Section 61, which references loans, still restrict First Nations’ sovereignty over their money, he added.

It took two years for credit companies to cave and realize partnering with the Cowessess First Nation wasn’t high risk, Delorme said. Now, the First Nation farms 7,000 acres of their land, creates jobs and turns a profit.

No longer chief, Delorme has created his own Indigenous-led consulting firm, OneHoop, to help First Nations bridge the gap between business and reconciliation. He is behind just one of many Indigenous-led consulting firms working to bring economic reconciliation to the forefront of the minds of corporate Canada. But they say more are needed to meet a growing demand.

Corporate Canada simply doesn’t know how to work with Indigenous people, said Sxwpilemaát Siyám (Chief Leanne Joe).

A hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, the Transformative Storyteller for Economic Reconciliation at Simon Fraser University and a consultant, Sxwpilemaát Siyám said she hears the phrase “I don’t know where to start” all too often.

Indigenous-led consulting firms are working to bring economic reconciliation to the forefront of the minds of corporate Canada. #Indigenous #EconomicGrowth #reconciliation

Sxwpilemaát Siyám’s advice is to pick one action, commit to it, be willing to fail and prepare to be uncomfortable.

“This is not easy work. This is going to challenge your worldview, it’s going to challenge so much of who you are as a human being. But if we don’t do it, then who will?” she said.

Cadmus Delorme is the founder of OneHoop, an Indigenous-led consulting firm that aims to bring reconciliation into business by working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients. Photo provided by Cadmus Delorme

This is where consultants like Delorme play

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Economic reconciliation ‘is everything’ to Indigenous people, business leader says

Indigenous and business leaders came together in Winnipeg on Tuesday to build relationships and share ideas as part of a forum focused on the economy and reconciliation.

More than a hundred business owners, government leaders and representatives of business organizations gathered at the Victoria Inn near the Winnipeg airport for the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s economic reconciliation business forum.

Among the attendees was Michelle Cameron, who has founded multiple businesses, including Dreamcatcher Promotions and the INAC (Indigenous Nations Apparel Company) clothing store chain.

Reconciliation is central to her success, she told CBC.

“It is everything,” she said. “It is the foundation of how we grow as a community — not just the Indigenous community, but all of us. We all play a part in reconciliation and doing business and moving forward.”

When Cameron started a new business, Dreamcatcher Executive Offices, she turned to another Indigenous business owner to furnish the space.

Darrell Brown owns Kisik Commercial Furniture. He says Indigenous-owned businesses can be just as competitive as others, if given the chance.

“We know how to do business. We’re very good at it. All we need is the door open, and you listen to us and give us a chance, and we’ll show you what we can do.”

Exploring partnerships

True North Sports and Entertainment chief executive Mark Chipman gave the keynote speech at Tuesday’s event.

He highlighted the work his organization is doing in downtown Winnipeg to redevelop the Portage Place shopping centre, across the street from where the Southern Chiefs’ Organization is working to develop the former Hudson’s Bay building.

“I don’t know that one project is can be as successful without the other,” Chipman said in an interview.

“So I think we’ve just got a natural … playground, so to speak, to work together.”

The two organizations haven’t had any detailed conversations about co-operating, but Chipman mentioned their shared goals of creating housing in their respective projects as one possible avenue for collaboration.

SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says companies also need to think about who they have at the top.

“Jamie Wilson [the vice-president of Indigenous strategy at Red River College Polytech] said it best this morning … if you don’t have Indigenous people on your board or on your executive branch of your company, then you’re probably not serious about true reconciliation,” Daniels said in an interview.

Several speakers and attendees spoke about the importance of

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2nd annual Indigenous Business Gathering in Saskatoon connects over 80 companies

The Government of Saskatchewan hosted the second annual Indigenous Business Gathering on Tuesday. The event at Prairieland Park brought over 500 people from Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses together to discuss collaborations and partnerships.

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Saskatchewan Indigenous-owned business aims towards reconciliation

The event hosted more than 80 mostly Indigenous businesses, all seeking to connect with others. It was the largest Indigenous economic development event in the entire province of Saskatchewan. The number of participants this year doubled compared to the previous edition.

Matt Smith, CEO of the Saskatchewan Indigenous Investment Finance Corp., a government organization that invests in Indigenous businesses, is pleased with the growth.

“The event grew out of a desire of Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses to have more partnership opportunities in procurement, supply chain or joint ventures. It is all part of economic reconciliation.”

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He added that the previous edition was very positively received by participants.

Plato Technologies’ Krista Sali was excited about the connections she was able to make during the event.

“It is a really good chance for us to network with other companies and find new clients this way. Talking to other Indigenous businesses is so helpful, because we can find synergies or ways to work together and help each other.”

Sali said she joined Plato Technologies because its social mission appealed to her. “Plato really helps Indigenous people find their way to IT careers. Through training programs, we find and recruit Indigenous employees into the world of IT.”

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Sask. industry collaboration looks to place spotlight on Indigenous business

The event is part of the province’s plan action to increase Indigenous participation in the economy of Saskatchewan.

Several multinational companies, like Enbridge and BHP, also attended.

Kim Brennies, the director for community and Indigenous engagement with energy transport company Enbridge, said he sees the event as a great opportunity to strengthen relationships with Indigenous groups.

“We are dedicated to having Indigenous partners fully participate on all our projects. To achieve that, we do extensive consultations with local Indigenous groups wherever we operate. We try to go the extra step by making Indigenous communities into partners in the assets where we operate.”

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