On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, communities across Canada hold events to celebrate Indigenous cultures and contributions. To mark the occasion, this HillNote provides information about Indigenous-women-owned businesses in Canada, the challenges they face and the available programs and supports.
Overview of Businesses Owned by Indigenous Women
Data on Indigenous businesses in Canada is limited. Often, the existing studies on Indigenous businesses do not consider a wide variety of other intersecting identity factors, leaving a research gap. Further, data sources do not all use the same definition of “Indigenous business,” which poses challenges when comparing existing data. A report published in 2022 by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub on women’s entrepreneurship in Canada suggests that disaggregated data could help identify and better understand the challenges faced by diverse women entrepreneurs, including Indigenous women. This data could also help determine the effectiveness of the programming available.
Statistics Canada considers a business Indigenous-owned if over half of the shares are held by people who identify as members of a First Nation, Inuit or Métis. Using this definition, Statistics Canada indicated that, in 2018, an estimated 37,000 private incorporated and non-incorporated businesses out of the 2,537,000 included in the study were Indigenous-owned. Of these, more than two-thirds (67.8%) did not have employees.
By connecting census and survey data, Statistics Canada found that between 2005 and 2018, the majority of Indigenous-owned businesses were owned by Indigenous men (73.4% on average) and a smaller share of these businesses was owned by Indigenous women (23.2% on average). However, as Statistics Canada noted, Indigenous-owned businesses were on average proportionally more likely than non-Indigenous-owned businesses to be held by women, 23.2% versus 19.5% respectively.
Statistics Canada also prepared a report on businesses located in First Nation and Inuit communities. The study found that in 2017, there were about 19,000 businesses located in Indigenous communities, including 17,000 in First Nations communities and 2,000 in Inuit communities. However, the report identifies businesses based on location rather than ownership, meaning these figures may include non-Indigenous-owned businesses.
All of the data above was collected and analyzed by Statistics Canada before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that significantly affected businesses across Canada. Statistics Canada conducted a survey in July and August 2021 to understand the effects of the pandemic on private-sector businesses, including those that are majority-owned by Indigenous people. The results indicate that when compared with other private-sector businesses, a larger proportion of businesses that are majority-owned by Indigenous people expected to face obstacles recruiting skilled employees and overcoming labour shortages, among others, in the three months following the survey.
Supports and Programs for Businesses Owned by Indigenous Women
Like other Indigenous businesses, those owned by Indigenous women face challenges, including how to overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on where the business is located, they may also have to deal with challenges, such as inadequate infrastructure (for example, a lack of clean water, housing and education facilities), higher costs of doing business and unreliable broadband Internet connections. Access to capital is also a barrier for many Indigenous businesses. According to the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, many Indigenous businesses are sole proprietorships which affects access to financing, because lenders consider this business structure risky. Indigenous peoples living in rural and remote communities are located far from financial services. Moreover, section 89 of the Indian Act prevents property on reserve from being used as collateral for loans, making it more difficult for businesses to access capital.
Indigenous women entrepreneurs may face additional barriers “stemming largely from their gender and their caregiving role within their family and community.” Indigenous women’s caregiving responsibilities may impact the growth of their businesses. These women entrepreneurs may face challenges participating in business-related training due to family responsibilities and a lack of transportation.
Initiatives to support Indigenous businesses include the following:
- The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business offers training materials, grants, an Indigenous business directory and networking opportunities for Indigenous businesses in Canada;
- Pow Wow Pitch offers training opportunities and a competition in which Indigenous entrepreneurs pitch their businesses for a chance to win cash prizes; and
- Government of Canada initiatives, such as the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program and Northern Indigenous Economic Opportunities Program; Export Development Canada’s support for Indigenous businesses; and the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan.
Resources specific to businesses owned by Indigenous women are also offered by Indigenous organizations including, for example:
- Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada offers networking opportunities for Inuit businesses through the Inuit Women in Business Network and is currently developing an Inuit- and gender-specific mentorship program.
- The National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association is a network of over 50 Indigenous financial institutions that provide loans to businesses owned by people from First Nations, Inuit and Métis. In 2022, the Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneur Program was launched in 32 Indigenous financial institutions, offering Indigenous women access to training, dedicated business support officers and micro-loans to start or expand their businesses.
- The Native Women’s Association of Canada offers an entrepreneurial outreach and navigation program, and it has hosted conferences to help improve the management, business and entrepreneurial skills of Indigenous women and gender-diverse people.
Although these resources are available, a 2022 report by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub on resources for Indigenous women entrepreneurs found that significant gaps remained in terms of grants and financing that target Indigenous women entrepreneurs specifically.
Businesses Owned by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Women in Canada
Businesses owned by Indigenous women operate in many areas of the Canadian economy, including health care, the arts, construction, transportation and the food industry. Indigenous women entrepreneurs and businesses owned by Indigenous women are listed in various directories, including Indigenous Services Canada’s Indigenous Business Directory, the Native Women’s Association of Canada Women’s Business Directory and the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub database.
Through their businesses, Indigenous women are giving back to their communities, supporting other Indigenous businesses and contributing to cultural revitalization.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, Inuit Women’s Business Council. Gender-Based Analysis of Inuit Women-Owned Businesses, 2021.
Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. Breaking Barriers: A decade of Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship in Canada, December 2020.
By Brittany Collier, Library of Parliament