Relationships are key to the success of Indigenous women entrepreneurs


Inuujaq Leslie Fredlund, a client of the Kivalliq Business Development Center and a participant in the NACCA Indigenous Women’s Role Model Campaign, stands next to her store, Maybe Somewhere, located in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The mobile store offers a range of Inuit, Nunavummiut and Indigenous products ranging from jewelry and clothing to cosmetics, skin care and music. (Photograph by Fred Cattroll)

For many Indigenous women, entrepreneurship offers a path to growth, personal freedom and financial independence.

As innate and regarded leaders in their communities, Indigenous women are sources of inspiration and pride for future generations. This influence is essential in healing the painful history and finding a new way forward, something the whole country will reflect on on the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30.

When starting their own businesses, Indigenous women encounter unique challenges and successes. CPA Canada spoke to CPA Relay Tangie and Magnolia Perron from the National Association of Native Finance Corporations (ANCA) to learn more about this experience.

A network of more than 50 Indigenous Financial Institutions (AFIs), NAFC’s mandate is to help stimulate economic growth for all Indigenous peoples in Canada. Through its comprehensive financial skills training, NACCA supports Indigenous female entrepreneurship, an important part of the journey to economic reconciliation.

Here, Tangie, an African-Canadian of Cameroonian origin, and Perron, from the Mohawk territory of Tyendinaga and proud member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, explain how the entrepreneurial skills of Indigenous women give them a head start and how NACCA’s tailor-made training programs create a solid framework for success.

CPA CANADA: Indigenous women play an important role in their communities. How does this help prepare them for entrepreneurship?
Magnolia Perron (MP):
Indigenous women have always been at the center of the family and have participated in the development of our communities.

Traits of leadership and entrepreneurship are innate in Aboriginal women. If you look at the advocacy work that’s going on in our communities, it’s often Indigenous women who literally put their bodies on the front lines.

Indigenous entrepreneurs, especially women, often incorporate cultural values ​​into their businesses based on the needs of their community, whether it’s supporting work in progress or creating jobs.

Their businesses often focus on sustainability and the seven generations.

CPA CANADA: What are the common experiences that Indigenous women entrepreneurs have shared with you?
deputy :
One of the main challenges for Indigenous women entrepreneurs is access to capital and it has a lot to do with the eligibility criteria.

Many Aboriginal women do not want to take on more debt, so the financial support they seek comes in the form of grants or non-repayable contributions.

When they try to access finance through traditional financial institutions, they demand collateral. Section 89 of the Indian Act prohibits banks from using property located on a reserve as collateral, which can be a barrier for Indigenous women trying to access capital. Moreover, a credit score can also hamper this, as some indigenous communities do not have access to financial institutions.

We have also heard that access to finance requires [the women to] get involved full time in their business. Many entrepreneurs start with home-based or part-time businesses, which also hampers eligibility.

Another shared experience is trying to balance work and family responsibilities. Aboriginal women tend to take on more family and community responsibilities. When accessing entrepreneurship programs, including workshops and training, logistics such as childcare and transportation can be difficult.

Despite these barriers, Indigenous women often start businesses with their own personal savings, and research shows that the number of self-employed Indigenous women is growing at a faster rate than the number of self-employed Indigenous men.

Although fewer Indigenous women than men are self-employed, their growth rate between 2011 and 2016 was 46%. This is higher than that of self-employed Aboriginal men, which was only 37 percent.

Collage of images by Relais Tangie and Magnolia PerronTangie (left) is NACCA Finance Officer and Perron is NACCA Indigenous Women and Youth Program Officer (Bridge Credit: Fred Cattroll, Credit Magnolia: Laura Dimitroff)

CPA CANADA: You will discuss the recent NACCA survey on Indigenous female entrepreneurship at the Mastering Money virtual conference. What ideas can you share with us?
deputy :
According to the Survey of Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, the main reason Indigenous women want to start a business is to pursue a passion for a product or service; the second is for more flexibility and freedom; and the third is to generate income for their families.

It is important that we provide targeted support to women, including training related to running, starting and maintaining a business, access to finance and budgeting. These trainings should include things like childcare and transportation and create safe environments for Indigenous women to share.

Programming should also reflect the culture and situation of Indigenous women in Canada and capture this diversity among Indigenous peoples, whether you are a First Nations woman living on reserve or a Métis woman living in an urban setting.

CPA CANADA: What financial literacy and business acumen skills are developed through NACCA financial skills training?
Tangie Relay (RT):
We know that financial literacy is a key part of business acumen. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of their financial situation to make sound business decisions, knowing and understanding the consequences of every financial decision.

One skill gap noted in our research is practical skills such as how to do a business plan and managing cash flow, profits versus cash, and our tax systems, both provincial and federal.

Confidence is also a key factor. Know that they can do it because they saw it. It’s part of who they were, and it’s part of who aboriginal women are. One thing that builds trust is the role model, and part of that is mentoring. You always need a mentor, no matter how successful you are.

CPA CANADA: You have developed a series of financial capacity workbooks for potential entrepreneurs. How do they help put Indigenous women on the path to financial and business success?
We did a lot of research before developing the training material. We noticed that the financial literacy material for entrepreneurs was a bit advanced for those who are just starting out.

The intention behind the workbooks is to act as a springboard for new entrepreneurs to understand the importance of building a strong personal financial character for the success of the business.

From a theoretical standpoint, the workbooks cover three main areas: goal setting, mindset and savings; income, expenses and budgets; banking and credit.

From a practical point of view, these workshops take place in an AFI framework, facilitating this relationship with a financial institution in the early stages. This is an opportunity for women to expand their network in a safe space because we all know you can’t do business on your own.

Finally, the workbooks are designed to meet the needs of our diverse Indigenous communities from coast to coast. This relevance and context is very important to the way the material is received and perceived.

CPA CANADA: What is the impact of these women on their communities and on the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs?
Role modeling provides visual proof that your aspirations are achievable.

Having this representation in business encourages other Indigenous women [to see] that there is no limit to what they can do and, even with the limitations that exist, they can learn to navigate the system to be successful.

This support ripples through their communities. As more and more aboriginal women become involved in business, we see an increase in employment, which reduces reliance on social assistance. Culturally, it comes down to the mindset of the seven generations; when you share your skills and knowledge, you make sure that these good traditions are passed on.

CPA CANADA: This year marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. What role does entrepreneurship play in healing Indigenous peoples?
deputy :
Entrepreneurship has always existed in Indigenous communities and can be a source of pride and healing. It offers an opportunity for indigenous peoples to participate in their communities. In addition, it allows those who did not grow up in an indigenous community or close to their culture to learn and reconnect safely. Language can be a powerful means for Indigenous entrepreneurs to integrate Indigenous values ​​and ways of knowing into their businesses.

Entrepreneurship also plays a key role in restoring respect in the way Indigenous peoples are seen and perceived. There is a big chunk of education for Canadians who want to learn more about Indigenous culture and Indigenous contributions to the economy. It’s in business that we see this happen, where we share our stories and our history. This represents a great learning opportunity.


Register to see NACCA’s Relay Tangie and Magnolia Perron host a session on the experience of Indigenous women entrepreneurs at the Mastering Money virtual conference on November 3-4.

If you’re looking for a glimpse of the perspectives of the next generation of Indigenous CPAs, check out CPA Canada’s Introduction to Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures course. Plus, learn more about the CPA’s struggle for Indigenous housing and the thriving Indigenous vineyards.

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