Spotlight on Inclusive Trade – Indigenous Business


The objective of Inclusive Trade is to ensure that all segments of society can take advantage of the opportunities that flow from trade. This  means providing equal opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that may already be at a disadvantage, including women, Indigenous peoples, youth, and other underrepresented groups.

The following Spotlight on Inclusive Trade – Indigenous Business focuses on how to further promote a trade diversification strategy that benefits companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples, through Indigenous entrepreneurship and supplier diversity.

Table of contents

What is Inclusive Trade?

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) is pleased to introduce the following Spotlight on Inclusive Trade – Indigenous Business that promotes an inclusive trade agenda that benefits Indigenous businesses.

Its objective is to provide Indigenous businesses with more opportunities to expand their operations and to progress to the international level by exporting.

Indigenous businesses are those enterprises that are majority-owned and controlled by Indigenous individuals or communities. Indigenous entrepreneurs are from the three main Indigenous groups (First Nations, Inuit and Métis), they are present in each province and territory, and are also represented in all sectors of the economy.

Indigenous companies are predominantly small businesses (1-99 employees) and most have less than 10 employees. Many of the larger enterprises that exist are owned by First Nation or Inuit communities. (Source)

Success Story:

Glooscap Ventures – the economic/business development arm of the Glooscap First Nation has fully embraced the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) – “this is an extraordinary opportunity for a small rural First Nation community to participate in building and contributing to the world economy, all while forming the foundation to exceptional community based economic development” said Chief Sidney Peters, Chief of Glooscap First Nation.

Glooscap’s partnership with Ilia Gourmet, a Greek cheesemaker was driven by how the Greek cheesemaker aligns itself with the philosophical nature of First Nation peoples. Glooscap Ventures is a community owned group of businesses that function on a Social Enterprise model where profits are returned to the community to support housing, healthcare, education, senior and youth programming and recreation.

The ability to access Feta Cheese under the new CETA rules enabled Glooscap to enter the Agri-food industry and become the only First Nation community to import authentic Greek Feta cheese. It is also one of only a few Canadian companies importing and producing value-added products from authentic Greek Feta cheese.

The removal/reduction of tariffs on Canadian seafood under the CETA also offered Glooscap the opportunity to increase its market presence in Europe and share its story of how the Mi’kmaq are the guardians of the sea and why sustainably caught seafood is the way of their ancestors.

Supplier Diversity

Definition: “…certifies that businesses that are 51% or more owned, managed and controlled by Aboriginal peoples and/or visible minorities, and provide the products/services outlined in their supplier profile… and therefore have a greater likelihood of achieving their business objectives.” (Source: CAMSC)

Corporate supplier diversity initiatives facilitate inclusive sourcing of goods and services from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in supply chains. Diverse suppliers include businesses owned by women, Indigenous peoples, minorities or someone who identifies as LGBTQ2. If your business is more than 51% owned and operated by members of designated groups, there may be opportunities for your business through corporate supplier diversity initiatives.

Supplier diversity initiatives are present in most Fortune 500 corporations. Some organizations require that your business be certified in order to qualify as a diverse supplier. Canadian certifiers include the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), Canadian Aboriginal & Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC), WEConnect International in Canada (women-owned businesses), and WBE Canada (women-owned businesses).

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) provides a Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) certification program, a procurement strategy, tools and financing for Aboriginal Business, and Aboriginal Business Mentorship Program. The objectives of CCAB include promoting companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples and facilitating business opportunities for them.

The Canadian Aboriginal & Minority Supplier Council (CAMSC) supports companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples by encouraging them to connect with the government, major corporations and other enterprises. Certification helps Indigenous peoples promote their services and products to a wider audience and access new markets. 

Success Story:

Arctic UAV -- Arctic UAV, an Indigenous-owned imaging company based in Iqaluit, Nunavut provides high definition video, photos and survey data. It has become a global operation and recently opened an office in Greenland. Arctic UAV credits the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) for its recent achievements – “the CETA has directly benefited us” says Kirt Ejesiak, Chairperson and CEO of Arctic UAV.

The office in Greenland has made it easier to go back and forth to the EU in order to provide Arctic UAV’s services, allowing it to export some of its knowledge and expertise to other Indigenous groups in Europe.

Ejesiak also acknowledges the TCS is helping them take full advantage of the CETA benefits -- “in addition to lowering our costs for importing systems and materials, the labour mobility regulations enable trainers to come to the Arctic to train UAV employees”.

More information on Arctic UAV.

Resources for Indigenous Entrepreneurs 

The following Government of Canada resources are designed to support the growth and prosperity of Indigenous businesses in Canada.

CanExportCanExport is a program developed by the TCS and the National Research Council - Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) to provide financial assistance for SMEs looking to develop new export opportunities and markets, especially in high-growth emerging markets.
Aboriginal Business & Entrepreneurship Development Fund (ABED)Through the Program Delivery Partners initiative, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada partners with Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs) to deliver funding for business development. AFIs are located in all regions of the country and are well-positioned to meet the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal entrepreneurs and communities at the local level. AFIs have responsibility for the management, distribution and administration of an equity fund and have the authority to approve funding for activities up to a maximum of $99,999 for Aboriginal individuals and incorporated businesses and up to $250,000 for community-owned businesses.
Indigenous Entrepreneur LoanAnother funding option for companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples is the Indigenous Entrepreneur Loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). Eligible individuals can access up to $250,000 and reap benefits such as limited personal risk and flexible repayment terms. As of March 31, 2018, BDC has over 500 Indigenous clients across Canada and has committed over $300 million to them.
Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business(PSAB)The Government of Canada supports companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples through the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB), which provides them with an opportunity to bid on government procurement contracts and as a result, strengthens Indigenous entrepreneurship. To reap the benefits of PSAB, businesses must be part of the Indigenous Business Directory.


Companies majority-owned by Indigenous peoples may be exempt from taxes, if products and services are sold on the reserves. Discover more by consulting the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Information on the tax exemption under section 87 of the Indian Act, under “Business income”.

Success Story:

As a Métis-owned and -operated boutique digital transformation company, ID Fusion’s purpose is to be a tool of positive change for Indigenous people. To fuel that vision, ID Fusion focuses on helping fast growing small-to-medium sized companies plan and evolve their technology, large multinational organizations build and maintain mobile apps, and government organizations enhance and maintain existing applications. With offices in Winnipeg and Chicago, ID Fusion serves customers across the globe from Winnipeg to Toronto to Cincinnati and Helsinki.

Aboriginal Business Directory: This directory was developed by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and the Ontario Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. To register, businesses with at least 51% Aboriginal ownership and control must follow strict guidelines i.e.: A band as defined by the Indian Act; sole proprietorship; limited company, etc.

Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada: Companies that are 51% or more Indigenous-owned and -controlled that promote authentic Indigenous experiences can join the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). Its objective is to promote Indigenous tourism in Canada and preserve Indigenous culture.  It invites anyone who shares their objective to become a member and get involved. Indigenous tourism businesses that are registered with ITAC get their services promoted through marketing programs to gain new clients and customers.

International Financial Institutions (IFIs)

In many parts of the world, international financial institutions (IFIs) play a major role in the social and economic development programs of nations with developing or transitional economies. This role includes advising on development projects, funding them and assisting in their implementation. Development programming of the major IFIs represents approximately US $150 billion annually.

IFIs provide financial assistance through loans, credits and grants, as well as technical and advisory services to national governments for a wide variety of development projects. The borrowing countries use the funds to purchase goods and services needed and apply the technical assistance to design and implement these projects.

Canadian firms looking to break into emerging markets can reduce some of their risk by pursuing IFI-sponsored projects. IFIs are usually well-versed on the government’s agenda and investment intentions regarding economic development initiatives. They also often have a very good understanding of the economic and political landscape in a country.

You should consider IFI-funded business opportunities as just one element of your larger international marketing strategy, rather than as an entry point into a new market. That said, if you have already exported successfully to a particular market, you can expect that your strategy would adapt well to IFI project opportunities there.

Working with a local partner is usually advisable. Such partnerships can give you the local presence and expertise that will help with any necessary follow-up and having someone on the spot may help you reduce costs. In most cases, moreover, local content is one of the evaluation criteria for a contract, and demonstrating that your bid has such content can make the difference between winning and losing a contract.

Canada is a partner and shareholder in the World Bank, which is the major global IFI, in addition to the 6 other regional development banks (African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Caribbean Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Inter-American Development Bank). This membership permits Canadian firms and individuals to compete for procurement opportunities in bank-funded projects and programs.

Canada's Offices of Liaison with International Financial Institutions (OLIFIs) located in IFI-Headquartered cities can help you learn about procurement opportunities through the IFIs, including information on where and how funds are spent, and how to find and pursue these opportunities. To find out more, refer to OLIFI.

The Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) assists companies through outreach and educational events, raising the awareness and understanding of the mandates and operations of the IFIs so that firms understand the business opportunities available.

Indigenous Business Women


A study done by BMO in February 2018 (Everywhere, Every Day Innovating: Women Entrepreneurs and Innovation) found that “Indigenous women entrepreneurs are innovating in all sectors and throughout their businesses. They view collaboration as essential and face many of the same challenges [as non-Indigenous women entrepreneurs] with the added burdens of prejudice, possible lack of support from community and family, lack of role models, more child and family responsibilities and less access to training and high-speed networks on more isolated reserves.” (Source)

Twenty-one per cent of the entrepreneurs who borrow from an Indigenous Financial Institution are female. Micro-businesses make up almost 90% of businesses operated by Indigenous women: 84% are sole proprietorships, 74% are situated on-reserve, and 86% are in home-based locations.

The TCS’ Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program provides targeted products and services to help women entrepreneurs expand their global footprint as well as offering them exclusive trade missions and networking opportunities.

Success Story:

Ellen Melcosky, a member of the Esketemc First Nation took her business, Little Miss Chief Gourmet Products Inc., further by exporting globally with the help of the TCS. “She advises other Indigenous businesses to contact and keep in touch with the TCS. ‘They're there to provide a service. Keep your name out there, let them know you're interested in pursuing markets in various countries, you're able and you're knowledgeable.’” (Source: CanadExport, 2017)

Testimonial: “For anyone thinking about starting a business, don’t be afraid to take a risk! Loving what you do is important, but taking good care of the financial management and administrative side of your business is the key to its success. Also, nurture a support network in your community, and it will nurture you right back!” - The Honourable Eva Aariak (former Premier of Nunavut) who had her own business until she was elected Premier in 2008.

The Aboriginal Women’s Business Entrepreneurship Network (AWBEN) was initiated in December 2012:

Similarly, the Inuit Women in Business Network was built to support and assist all Inuit business women at any stage of business development though mentorship, providing easy-to-read resources, and having a community that will encourage them.

Success Story:

Cheekbone Beauty is an online cosmetic brand that uses only Canadian products with part of the profits re-invested in First Nation education. Founder Jennifer Harper is a passionate Indigenous entrepreneur focused on creating positive changes through a platform that enables her to give back to Indigenous communities. See more on Youtube.

Indigenous Youth

According to Statistics Canada, the Aboriginal population is young. The average age of the Aboriginal population was 32.1 years in 2016—almost a decade younger than the non-Aboriginal population (40.9 years). So it makes sense that in furthering an inclusive trade agenda, Indigenous youth need to be considered as well. Global Affairs Canada’s International Aboriginal Youth Internships (IAYI) initiative is designed to provide Aboriginal youth with valuable work experience in international development.

BDC has resources for young entrepreneurs in general, such as small business loans of up to $100,000 and business advice.  It also offers a summer student program that provides Indigenous college and university students with an opportunity to get experience by interning at BDC. Successful applicants receive training and mentorship designed as preparation for future permanent careers at BDC.

Success Story:

In 2018, Jordan Jolicoeur was the recipient of the Youth Aboriginal Entrepreneur of the Year Award. His small family business, Carvel Electric, has ten employees, of which six identify as Indigenous. What started off as a small part-time family business, has now expanded into large-scale contracts. Carvel Electric is now a major player in the electrical business industry in Alberta. “I hope [this] shows that you can build something out of nothing.” – Jolicoeur. (Source)

Furthermore, the CCAB honours Aboriginal youth in business through their National Youth Aboriginal Entrepreneur of the Year Award. This award recognizes a young Canadian First Nation, Inuit or Métis person with an entrepreneurial spirit and leadership qualities. The winner receives a $10,000 cash prize. .

Futurpreneur Canada is the only national, non-profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39. More specifically, Futurpreneur supports young entrepreneurs with up to $45,000 in financing, business mentorship for up to 2 years and other resources to help tomorrow’s business leaders manage and grow their business. 

Futurpreneur, as a founding member of the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance (YEA), a global network of more than 500,000 members, also facilitates international opportunities. In advance of every G20 Leaders’ Summit, the G20YEA brings together hundreds of the world’s top young entrepreneurs to advance youth entrepreneurship as a driver of economic growth, innovation and social change. The Summit offers a unique opportunity to become part of a network of champions -- advising, sharing ideas and proposing solutions on the key issues of the moment. It is also a critical opportunity for young entrepreneurs to advance their businesses, make international connections and explore international growth.

Success Story:

Okwaho Equal Source is proudly 100% Indigenous (Anishinaabe, Kanien'kehá:ka and Māori) owned and operated. Its mission is to fuel social, economic, and environmental impact via the Indigenous empowerment and inclusion of diverse entrepreneurs and Indigenous-owned enterprises. With global headquarters in Canada and Australia, the company has elevated its global business network and consultancy status to include a remarkable cadre of seasoned academic, community, environmental, designers and industry advisors, and professionals from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Company president (North America) and global chair, Shyra Barberstock explains, “We are driven by a passion to redefine Indigenous business landscapes here in Canada. What we have achieved is a global position of influence that provides a platform to demonstrate to potential stakeholders the sophistication and forward-thinking of Indigenous ingenuity in business development at the local, national and international levels.”

Indigenous International Trade Events

The World Indigenous Business Forum (WIBF) is an annual conference with the objective of having an economic impact on the Indigenous population of the world by providing a platform to discuss challenges in business and to provide a community and networking opportunity. In 2019, the WIBF will be held in Vancouver on October 8-10.

The International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization (IITIO) organizes conferences in Canada and the United States to support and enhance the implementation of the global flow and exchange of Indigenous goods, services and investments.

Organized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED), the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) is the largest Native American business conference in the United States.

The NMSDC Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange is the premier forum in the U.S. on minority supplier development.  For four days, more than 6,000 corporate CEOs, procurement executives and supplier diversity professionals from the top multinational companies, as well as leading Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American business owners and international organizations will convene in Atlanta, Georgia on October 13-16, 2019 to highlight the value of incorporating minority firms into the global corporate supply chain.

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