Sponsored by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub
In an effort to close the gender gap in entrepreneurial pursuits in Canada, organizations like the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub are working hard to foster inclusive networks that support women entrepreneurs in developing their businesses. The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), funded by the Government of Canada, shares research on and resources for women entrepreneurs in Canada. Made up of 10 regional hubs, WEKH operates in both English and French, and includes a network of over 250 organizations, reaching more than 100,000 women entrepreneurs.
In August 2020, the WEKH Indigenous team participated in a traditional pipe ceremony, led by Elder Margaret Lavallee of Sagkeeng First Nation. The ceremony took place in the Circle Room inside of Migizii Agamik (Bald Eagle Lodge), located at the University of Manitoba on Treaty 1 Territory, the home of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene Peoples, and the Homeland of the Métis Nation. The University of Manitoba Asper School of Business is also the home of the WEKH National Indigenous Hub, Mikwam Makwa Ikwe.
Mikwam Makwa Ikwe is Anishinaabe for Ice Bear Woman and was gifted to WEKH during the pipe ceremony. This Spirit Name is one that WEKH honours in all aspects of their work. The Ice Bear Woman is the spirit of resilience and strength—it is the spirit that can be found within and alongside Indigenous women’s entrepreneurial journeys.
Mikwam Makwa Ikwe is led by Ashley Richard, a proud Ojibway and Métis woman with family from Pine Creek First Nation and Camperville Manitoba on her paternal side, and Filipina roots on her maternal side. She was gifted the spirit name Forever Woman when she was a newborn, and this gift has served as her beacon throughout life. She knew when she started working with WEKH that the work must also be grounded in traditional ways.
The spirit of the Ice Bear Woman has guided the work of the National Indigenous Hub, which includes advancing research on Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship, and establishing and enhancing partnerships across Turtle Island. In early 2020, Mikwam Makwa Ikwe hosted a series of national roundtables on Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship, bringing together over 350 participants in each province and territory to discuss the challenges and barriers that Indigenous women entrepreneurs face, and what the future of an inclusive innovation ecosystem looks like from an Indigenous woman’s perspective.
The discussions at these roundtables provided the foundation for the Mikwam Makwa Ikwe’s inaugural report: Mikwam Makwa Ikwe, A National Needs Analysis on Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship. This report looked at the complex barriers Indigenous women entrepreneurs face, such as access to financing and capital, access to entrepreneurial education and mentorship, and much more. A major finding within this report was that Indigenous women entrepreneurs face many similar barriers that other women entrepreneurs face, but the complexity is deepened by the intersection of Indigeneity and gender.
However, what came across even more powerfully in these roundtable discussions was that Indigenous women are much more than the challenges and barriers they face. Indigenous women want the future of an inclusive innovation ecosystem to be co-created by and for Indigenous women in a meaningful, intentional and relational way. Indigenous women already have the knowledge to make this happen; however, they need to be supported to ensure this is an equitable movement for all Indigenous women across Turtle Island.
Indigenous Peoples have the strength, power and knowledge to recreate and rebuild wealth distribution in a more inclusive, gentler, kinder way to each other and Mother Earth. Collectively, we are stepping away from the deeply intertwined toxic triangle of the past: patriarchy, colonization and capitalism. The colonial business world has excluded Indigenous Peoples, in particular Indigenous women and gender-diverse folks.
In October 2020, WEKH met over Zoom with the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA), the Indigenous LIFT Collective, the Indigenous Innovation Initiative (13) at Grand Challenges Canada, and Futurpreneur for the first National Collective meeting. At this meeting, all five organizations shared updates with one another and expressed the importance of moving forward as an interconnected ecosystem. The group made a commitment to one another to meet on a monthly basis.
Organizations working together as a collective, with and alongside Indigenous women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs, will not only benefit Indigenous Peoples but will benefit the business world at large.
Since that first meeting, the collective group has expanded to include PowHERhouse, SheEO, the Fireweed Fellowship, National Aboriginal Trust Officers Association (NATOA), the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and Native Women Lead. Now, this group of 10 organizations convened by WEKH is a National Collective that is the first of its kind, bringing together a group of diverse organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that share the commitment and goal of advancing support for Indigenous women entrepreneurs. This is the first collective of organizations and individuals committed to building an entire ecosystem of support designed specifically for supporting Indigenous women and gender-diverse folks in business.
The National Collective recognizes that Indigenous women entrepreneurs need a strong circle of support, from mentorship to financing to navigational support. As a group, they recognize that it will take all of our organizations—weaving together and utilizing our unique strengths—to ensure Indigenous women and gender-diverse entrepreneurs have access to what they need to start and grow successful businesses. There is a mutual understanding that everyone must work together and collaborate with a mindset of abundance and co-create the future of doing business in a good way.
Together, this collective of nationally-focused organizations are re-matriating partnerships and modelling a way forward for women entrepreneurs, innovators and changemakers from coast-to-coast-to-coast, setting an elevated standard of excellence in re-Indigenized interconnectivity.
“Decolonizing is shining light on the dominant social, political, economic, and judicial structures and systems that have overshadowed Indigenous ways of knowing and being,” said Teara Fraser of the Indigenous LIFT Collective. “We are working together in circle—decolonizing entrepreneurship while amplifying and uplifting Indigenous business.”
An Inclusive Indigenous Economic Ecosystem Collective
The following statement was created by all 10 national partners, alongside WEKH: We acknowledge that we are collectively located across Turtle Island, also known as North America.
Our Inclusive Indigenous Economic Ecosystem Collective (IIEEC) is a network of economic ecosystem leaders working to create a more inclusive and affirming space for Indigenous innovators and entrepreneurs. We acknowledge that interconnection is central to our Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing, and reflects an awareness that everything in the universe is connected.
Our movement invites each partner to contribute their unique gifting for the highest good of the collective and the communities we serve. Our goal is to embody decolonizing and Indigenizing business and entrepreneurship practices throughout our organizations, and build on principles of mutual respect, cooperation, reciprocity, and the spirit of inclusion. Relationships and spirit are at the heart.
By centering collaboration and mutual accountability, we acknowledge and take responsibility for how decisions affect the work of our organizations, our relationships with each other, and the impact we can have on the wider Indigenous community.
In addressing generations of colonial impacts, we are transforming the way organizations work together and are reclaiming matrilineal and sacred teachings to create an economic ecosystem that honours, upholds and reclaims the important role of women, Two Spirit, trans and gender-diverse people.
Our vision for 2030 is for Indigenous businesses across industries and sectors to be visible, successful and thriving in an ecosystem that is relational and circular, walks gently on Mother Earth, and urgently upholds critical approaches grounded in Indigenous ways and worldviews.
In 2030, we will be celebrating an inclusive and diverse group of curious and courageous Indigenous Peoples from across Turtle Island as they are recognized as leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship.
See It. Be It.
Indigenous women entrepreneurs need to see other successful Indigenous women entrepreneurs in order to realize their own potential. Representation is so important for younger generations to begin to see entrepreneurship as a career path.
WEKH’s See It. Be It. campaign is a national campaign that challenges the stereotypes of entrepreneurship in the media, and in policies and programs throughout the innovation ecosystem. More importantly, this campaign celebrates the successes of Indigenous women entrepreneurs and provides an ever-growing database of role models who can inspire a new generation of Indigenous women entrepreneurs.
Meet just a few of the successful women entrepreneurs who are crushing entrepreneur stereotypes and are featured in the WEKH database.
Veronica Johnny is an Indigenous two-spirit artist from the Northwest Territories. She is the front woman, vocalist and rhythm guitarist of The Johnnys, a high-energy rock’n’roll band she founded with drummer and husband Dave Johnny. Johnny is of Nehiyaw/Dene heritage and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Since beginning her musical journey, Johnny has become a dynamic performer as both a solo artist and a member of groups. She has amassed studio experience on either side of the mixing console, and facilitated performances and inspirational workshops for schools, festivals, organizations and individuals. Johnny is the founder of IndigenEd, a 100% Indigenous-led, woman-owned arts education business—INDIGENous EDucation for all—creating understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. thejohnnys.com
Joella Hogan is the owner and founder of the Yukon Soaps Company in her traditional territory in Mayo, Yukon. When Hogan was presented with the opportunity to purchase a local soap-making business, she saw it as a way to reconnect people to the land. By using local plants, employing local youth, using traditional beadwork and plant knowledge, and using Northern Tutchone language when possible, Hogan has found a way to reconnect with her community, elders, land and language. She aspires for the Yukon Soaps Company to not only be her business but for it to be Mayo’s soap business. Hogan strives to reinvest her profits from the Yukon Soaps Company back into her community and to support other local artists. yukonsoaps.com
Yamila Franco was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. As a proud Afro-Indigenous entrepreneur, Franco actively works as a financial literacy educator and strategist supporting entrepreneurs in navigating financial systems and establishing
healthier financial habits—understanding how to build wealth and save money. In 2018, she co-founded Nyoka Design Labs, a clean technology social enterprise focused on bringing eco-friendly, clean and innovative products to market. In 2020, she co-founded AfroHub Market, an e-commerce and networking platform that focuses on supporting the local community of entrepreneurs of African descent in British Columbia. Her role has recently shifted to focusing on strategy, scaling impact initiatives and laying the base foundation to build sustainable social enterprises. Franco enjoys being and learning with the community, advocating for financial literacy and inclusion, and volunteering to create safer and more inclusive spaces for all. Franco has been honoured as FLIK’s 21 Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021, a 2021 YWCA Young Woman of Distinction Nominee and a recipient of the 2020 Representation, Engagement, Participation Youth Award by HERE in Canada. linkedin.com/in/yamila-franco-828322138
As the co-founder of The Finance Cafe and founder of Pestun Consulting, Shannon Pestun is an experienced entrepreneur and courageous leader who is breaking barriers to advance an inclusive and sustainable economy. Recognized for creating innovative funding models and solutions that challenge the status quo, Pestun is a trusted voice on women’s entrepreneurship for educators, government, industry and the media. She was one of the first women in the country to lead a women’s banking strategy and one of seven women appointed to serve on Canada’s women entrepreneurship expert panel. Her commitment to advancing equality has been widely recognized. In 2018, she was named a SHEInnovator by SHEInnovates Alberta—a pilot chapter for UN Women—and in 2019, she was a finalist for the Diversity Ambassador of the Year award by Women in Finance, Canada Edition. Pestun is a member of the Mount Royal University board of directors and is a member of the President’s advisory committee on equity, diversity and inclusion. A proud Cree Métis woman, Pestun recently created the Gifting circle for Indigenous women entrepreneurs, the first Canadian community-funded bursary that supports Indigenous women who pursue entrepreneurial studies. thefinancecafe.ca
In 2021, Lynn-Marie Angus was honoured with the Indigenous Business of the Year Award from BC Achievement. Lynn-Marie and her sister Melissa-Rae Angus are behind the Indigenous wellness brand Sisters Sage. Their company sells hand-crafted wellness and self-care products using traditional Indigenous ingredients. Lynn-Marie and Melissa-Rae started the business to showcase their culture in a positive way and make a living out of their interest in artisan soaps and self-care products. One of their core products, a smudge spray, offers a smoke-free alternative to traditional cleansing. Sisters Sage won
the national Pow Wow Pitch competition in 2020, and the sisters aim to inspire other Indigenous entrepreneurs to help close the economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. sisterssage.com
Trisha Pitura and Mélanie Bernard
Trisha Pitura and Mélanie Bernard are the founders of MINI TIPI, a brand of blankets and accessories for adults and children. Their designs reflect their heritage, and are designed and produced in Quebec. MINI TIPI sells goods via e-commerce in addition to craft markets and select retailers in Canada. Collaborating with Indigenous artists has allowed MINI TIPI to set themselves apart, supporting artists and celebrating culture. It is extremely important to MINI TIPI to give back to the community through donations to local food banks and Indigenous women crisis centers, and by sharing products with those in need. minitipi.ca
To access the full WEKH See It. Be It. database, please visit wekh.ca/seeitbeit.
This article was written by Ashley Richard, Associate Director Indigenous, Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) with co-authors Vanessa Lesperance (Indigenous LIFT Collective), Charlene SanJenko (PowHERhouse) and Magnolia Perron (NACCA). Additional contributions by Kara Thorvaldson (WEKH).