indicatorStart Up Business

Exploring Indigenous intersectionalities in the age of the startup

Presented by the ATB Entrepreneur Centre and the ATB Branch for Arts and Culture

By ATB Financial 18 June 2020

The diversity of Indigenous communities across the country has been, and continues to be informed by more than just the vibrant cultural heritages of Turtle Island. We had the opportunity to connect with a panel of trailblazing Indigenous entrepreneurs and get meaningful insights around how their intersectional identities have both inspired and challenged them.
The conversation features the following panelists:


Five key learnings from the conversation

  1. Indigenous entrepreneurship = economic independence and empowerment.

    “It’s about the ability to do the work in the way I have been taught, the way that represents my people, my elders, my community—and with my community—that is very important to me,” says Dusty LeGrande, Owner of streetwear brand Mobilize Waskawewin.

  2. Indigenous entrepreneurship is unique.

    Our panel shared that Indigenous entrepreneurship is about more than the mainstream definition because it includes:
    • Honouring community and community building
    • Embracing intersectionality
    • Celebrating culture
    • Letting go of ego
    • Chasing what you love

  3. Indigenous women are entrepreneurial leaders.

    “Indigenous women are starting companies at twice the rate of women generally in Canada,” says Shannon Pestun, Director, Women Entrepreneurship at ATB Financial. While these women don’t always identify as entrepreneurs, she adds, they are role models for future generations.

  4. Indigenous youth inspire today’s entrepreneurs.

    The panelists talked about how their own kids and the youth in their communities add deeper meaning to being a business owner. For them, entrepreneurship is a powerful way to help kick open the door for the next generation of Indigenous leaders.

  5. A support circle can be a vital resource and mentorship space to help Indigenous entrepreneurs thrive.

    Being an Indigenous entrepreneur can mean choosing a different path than the previous generation—and that’s okay. The panelists encouraged fellow business owners to build a hand-picked circle of elders, mentors and friends for support.


Follow-up Q&A with entrepreneur Jacquelyn Cardinal

As an entrepreneur, Jacquelyn currently owns and operates a number of companies geared towards the same goal—equipping communities with the means to support themselves and each other while walking together on a shared path, a sentiment passed down to her through generations.

In her role as founder and Managing Director of the Indigenous owned and operated Naheyawin, Jacquelyn fulfills her duties as a Treaty person by searching for and creating tools to assist Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in an effort to reclaim the spirit of the Numbered Treaties. A technologist at heart, Jacquelyn uses and continues to develop her skills in community engagement, strategic planning and communications to be of service to her community and see Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples into a good future by working together.


What inspires your heart and mind most in your work and entrepreneurship?

Jacquelyn: That’s a tough one! I feel absolutely surrounded by inspirational people, places and moments. In this moment, I’m incredibly inspired by those in our communities who have been doing the work of bridge-building and calling-in for decades. When that work is done from a place of warmth and kindness, it might just be one of the most difficult and important jobs in the world.

What kind of support do you think Indigenous women need to start a business?

Jacquelyn: As I mentioned during our panel discussion, I think visibility is huge. We need to not only make space for Indigenous women to enter the entrepreneurship space in a diversity of sectors and roles, but also celebrate their achievements loudly and often. This would have meant the world to me as a little one!

Do you have role models of Indigenous entrepreneurs from previous generations?

Jacquelyn: I’m inspired by my grandmothers and great-grandmothers! I’ve heard such amazing stories about how they made sure that our communities and families had enough to go around, and also, how they prepared for the next generations. It’s my big goal to be a fraction as great as they were!

Do you feel your work is more or less important now, given everything that’s happening with COVID-19 and the anti-racism awakening?

Jacquelyn: More important. I think many people right now believe that this awakening means we will certainly make progress, when in fact it’s an opportunity that has no guarantees. I believe that we need to constantly remind one another and ourselves about how our actions will reverberate on the seven-generational time horizon, which sometimes means recognizing the need for patience, warmth and trust in moments when we feel least equipped to act from those places. If we do that, I truly do believe we can make massive strides together.

What single habit or discipline do you follow, that has helped make you a successful entrepreneur?

Jacquelyn: The concept of “deep work” has been so helpful for me on my own journey. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. Especially for those of us who grew up with the internet, practicing focus is a real challenge but also a force multiplier!

Where do you see future Indigenous prosperity developing/growing—on reserve lands or elsewhere?

Jacquelyn: Just by looking at our demographics at the moment, I think the revitalization of Indigenous economies will most certainly be widespread. But honestly, the question for me is not just about prosperity, but sovereignty. Reaching parity with non-Indigenous Canadians is a great goal, but the real tricky thing is discovering how we do so in a way that retains our independence and cultural foundations as Indigenous peoples.

What tangible steps do you think non-Indigenous allies could take to support Indigenous peoples of various intersectionalities? Perhaps Indigenous owned-businesses that they could support?

Jacquelyn: There are so many opportunities out there! I would absolutely encourage all allies to continue their education about the diversity of Indigenous identities that exist and that are continually being explored. There are a ton of ways to do this, but my own favourite methods are very hands-on and fun. First, by engaging with these communities on the social platforms of your choice, and second, by making a commitment to purchase gifts for others (or treats for yourself!) from diverse Indigenous artisans and makers. My favourite social media accounts and makers right now include the I A M - Indigenous Artist Market Collective, LUXX Ready to Wear, Section 35 and of course Mobilize.

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