Tabatha Bull

Growing the Indigenous Economy

The Canadian Leadership Congress is hosting its annual Challenge of Change Forum at the Fox Harb’r Resort in Wallace, Nova Scotia from June 1-3. We’re pleased to have on our agenda Tabatha Bull, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. She’ll be speaking to our delegates about the importance of the indigenous economy to Canada and the role asset owners can play in supporting its growth. We talked to Tabatha in advance of the event to get her perspective on these key questions and more.

CLC: Why are indigenous businesses important to the future of Canada, where we’re at this juncture?

TB: We know from our research that indigenous businesses are being created at nine times the rate of non-indigenous businesses. There are currently 60,000 indigenous businesses across Canada in every sector and in every size. We also know that indigenous people are the fastest-growing population in the country. So, there’s a real opportunity for supporting the indigenous economy. We also see significant opportunities in partnerships in this country. Especially as we look towards implementation of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people and build in new infrastructure across the country. We’re going to need to find partnerships with corporate Canada and indigenous business to really move this forward.

CLC: What are some of the main challenges some of these businesses are facing right now?

TB: Definitely access to financing. Only about a third of indigenous businesses have a relationship with a traditional financial institution. A third are funded through aboriginal financial institutions. Then a third are privately funded – so savings or family-funded. Part of that is not having a relationship with the bank or not growing up with a relationship with the bank.

Even when we went through COVID, a lot of the funding that was initially rolled out required an initial relationship with the bank. So that continues to create a barrier that builds on top of itself. Part of that, too, is just access to a network. Where I live in Toronto, my kids would have support to start a new business or they would have access to new networks or investors. This is much different than the experience of an indigenous young person in rural or remote Canada. Access to networks and connections that can support entrepreneurs is a big barrier.

CLC: What role can institutions play?

TB: One role is to support organizations or corporations that also support indigenous business. With large organizations, investors can ask questions about their relationship with indigenous communities – questions like “do they have a procurement target to support indigenous entrepreneurs?” Some organizations actually have a 5% procurement target.

Investors have so much power to move corporate Canada forward which will, in turn, support the indigenous economy. Right now, every small to medium enterprise needs support financially after the last two years. It’s very difficult for any business to take on more debt. From an investment point of view, investors can help indigenous organizations or businesses looking to scale up. They can also work to understand the values of those organizations and ensure that they’re aligning with those values. For example, many indigenous businesses are focused on sustainability – that’s always been a core value.

Nearly every indigenous business gives back to the community or supports indigenous youth or the environment. Investors can understand that aspect of the organization and align with that. This is just as important to an indigenous business as the money that comes along with that investment.