Aboriginal entrepreneurs gather for national summit in Toronto

Mar 5, 2013 | Biz/Tech, News

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation played a vital role in bringing the national summit to fruition

Nishnawbe-Aski Nation played a vital role in bringing the national summit to fruition. Photo by Christian Quequish

By Christian Quequish

The first ever national summit helping Aboriginals learn entrepreneurial skills is taking place in Toronto this week.

The I Do Business National Summit & Tradeshow Conference is being held this year at the DoubleTree hotel in Etobicoke, and seeks to support Aboriginal business as well as entrepreneurs.

“We’ve created a platform that’s very innovative in Canada, this is the first time literacy and entrepreneurship have really come together to talk and learn from each other and collaborate,” John Kor, national summit lead, told Humber News.

There are a lot of tools, particularly with technology today, that can be utilized in remote communities such as the First Nation reservations, he said

“For any business you need a community in order to create a product and reach out to that community, across the country and around the world,” Kor said. “Technology today is one of those crucial tools that has to be used so learning about those tools is very important.”

He said that learning essential skills such as how to use a computer, how to read a document, how to work with others, standard arithmetic, reading and writing are basic skills that are needed to be successful in life.

“If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, your literacy skills have to be up there,” he said, adding that “whether you’re working for yourself or whether you’re working for someone else.”

Latash Nahanee is an entrepreneur and publisher of a newspaper in B.C. called Seven, and was previously the publisher of a now defunct newspaper.

“I saw an opening in the market for a new newspaper, so I decided I’d publish my own newspaper, and it’s gone quite well,” Nahanee said. “We’re a quarterly publication, we’ve done four issues and we’re just stating our second year of business.”

He said his company is unique as it is a national paper with stories and advertising that can reach out and appeal to Aboriginal readers.

“It’s all across Canada, we distribute to every band office and Aboriginal friendship center in Canada,” said Nahannee, who is a former CEO for the Native Communications Society of B.C.

One of the founding supporters of the conference is Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, an advocacy organization for 49 First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.

Planning for the summit began a year ago

Kirstine Baccar, the policy advisor on economic and resource development for Nishnawbe-Aski Nation told Humber News that her organization was approached and asked to sit as a representative in Ontario for an initial planning session that took place about a year ago.

“NAN was already mandated by their chiefs to host a business conference for the NAN territories … I engaged John [Kor] and asked him if that would be an opportunity and he said, ‘Oh god, I had just hoped that you would say that!,’” Baccar said.

She said that her group’s primary role is ensuring there is funding to support the Nishnawbe-Aski territories businesses and entrepreneurs.

Bruce Lacroix is the provincial coordinator of the aboriginal business and entrepreneurship skills training program, and he gave a presentation during the conference.

“People here are learning how to start a business, how to find funding for a business, learning about business ideas, and connecting with other entrepreneurs around here,” Lacroix said.

He said entrepreneurs looking to start their own business in small communities not unlike First Nations reservations need to adapt and use appropriate technology.

“You don’t want to start a business that needs 5,000 people to sustain it, but with today’s technology, if you’re doing business in a small community, you can sometimes reach customers all over the world,” he said.

He said that being in a small community is “an advantage because you don’t have the distractions you have in a larger city.”