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Sharon Bond is the owner of the Kekuli Café. Submitted photo A free training series will take Indigenous women through the steps of building a business.

On April 28, 20 Indigenous women from across B.C.’s southern interior will start the Aboriginal Business and Entrepreneurship Skills Training (BEST) program, a partnership of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen .

“I believe all Indigenous women have an entrepreneurial spirit. We do whatever we can to provide for our families, from beading and sewing to selling bannock. We find innovative ways to make sure our families are taken care of,” said Elaine Alec, Penticton Indian Band member and partner at Alderhill Planning.

According to the program, the rate of entrepreneurship among Indigenous women is outstripping that among other women: from 2011 to 2014, the self-employment rate among Aboriginal women grew by 7.5 per cent while self-employment grew by 3.8 per cent among non-Aboriginal women. During the same period, self-employment among Aboriginal people grew by 10.7 per cent, compared with 1.4 per cent among non-Aboriginal Canadians.

The Aboriginal BEST program is a free, 12-part training series that takes participants through the steps of building a business, from market research to developing a business plan. Main funding for the program is provided by the federal government through the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training. Organizers said it is known for being the most successful entrepreneurship skills training program for Indigenous people in B.C. Approximately 2,300 participants have graduated from BEST, and 69 per cent of BEST graduates go on to start or expand existing business, enter new employment, or enter higher education.

“The program will help other Indigenous women by providing them with skills to develop their own products or home-based business, thereby creating self-employment that is flexible around their family’s schedule” says BEST instructor Anita Large.

Large is herself an Indigenous woman and a self-described ‘serial entrepreneur,’ who was one of 20 women selected from across Canada by the Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Entrepreneurship, to facilitate the program. She has previously run Theytus Books in Penticton and choose entrepreneurship to have flexibility around her young son’s schedule due to high costs of childcare.

“A major benefit of being a freelance entrepreneur supports the life style I want,” said Kelly Terbasket, of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, a social entrepreneur, founder and program director of IndigenEYEZ. “I have the freedom and mobility to work from anywhere I can set up my laptop.”

Rhonda Dieni, owner of Bliss Tea Kombucha, offers another take on entrepreneurship among Indigenous women.

“As far as advice to other Indigenous entrepreneurs goes they must lose the victimization mentality and must work on themselves. It is all about attitude. You can’t give up and you must see the end result in front of you.”

The program includes a networking opportunity at the Aboriginal Business Match West tradeshow in Penticton in May, and participants also have an option to pitch their business ideas to local Indigenous business leaders in June.

“Entrepreneurship is of paramount importance for any community, but this holds especially true in Indigenous communities where economies are being rebuilt in the context of a changing climate. As young Indigenous people complete their education and are entering the workforce, they discover that self-employment or working for small and medium-size businesses can be the most rewarding solution to pursuing their career,” said ABM co-host Brenda Baptiste of the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s Bridges program.

Registration for the Aboriginal BEST program is still open and can be done at the Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen office or online at . For further information people can contact Anita Large […]

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