Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada


In recent years, it has been recognized that indigenous self-determination and self-governance cannot be fully achieved and sustained in the long run without an existing economic base that would ensure the political and economic independence of any indigenous nation.

Canada is one of the countries in which indigenous entrepreneurship and small business development has been most successful, and while the benefits of it may seem obvious to an outsider, it has been reported that in Canadian first nation communities, there has been a long period of mistrust and suspicion towards the values behind economic development. Usually associated with western ideals and values which promote individualism and profit, entrepreneurship has long been seen as “non-Indian”, and as strictly opposed to indigenous traditional values of sharing and community development. While these views continue to exist in certain circles, the many positive examples of indigenous businesses and ventures have generally shifted this perspective, and have demonstrated that indigenous communities can vest indigenous values in businesses and ventures and still be profitable and beneficial for the individual and the community as a whole.

As a result of this, indigenous small businesses are a fast growing industry in Canada and have been positively linked with employment creation, communal profit, skills development and opportunity creation. This growth has been also positively linked with increased political, economic and religious independence and freedom.

Problem statement

Compared to both indigenous and non-indigenous men, indigenous women exhibit lowered socio-economic indicators. While the number of indigenous small businesses has considerably grown, the role of women in these has been largely overlooked by research, despite the fact that indigenous women have been identified as the most active entrepreneurs in recent years in the Canadian context. Given their vulnerable socio-economic position, the potential in such ventures in considerable.

The types of businesses indigenous women engage in are most commonly in the sphere of crafts productions, the food industry (bakeries, diners, etc.) and retail. Values related to sharing of skills, knowledge and customers, as well as lack of marked competitiveness have been identified as some of the strongest values held by Canadian indigenous women entrepreneurs. Yet, research has also shown that indigenous women entrepreneurs face many challenges, including lack of financial and educational support and lack of long-term security. Barriers related to logistics, costs and continued capacity building have also been identified.


Research ideas

Preliminary research with Maqtewe’k, Wataptek, Wape’k and Mekwe’k female entrepreneurs has been recently carried out (Diochon et al.). A thesis project can either work with one of these communities along the Canadian Atlantic coast, or identify another indigenous community that would be interested and might benefit from such research and explore some of the following aspects:

  • Nature of existing female businesses and reasons behind their creation.
  • Major support networks and other factors that have contributed to their development.
  • Major obstacles and challenges faced by female entrepreneurs.
  • Perceptions of the larger community of female entrepreneurships. Perceptions of male entrepreneurships of female entrepreneurs.
  • General benefits for the community from existing businesses owned by women. Any negative consequences for the community?
  • Links between the number of businesses in a given community and the level of political and/or corporate independence of the community?
  • Links to cultural and/or linguistic maintenance and strengthening?
  • Links between the number of female business in a given community and the health and education level, and children well-being in the community?


Further reading:

Weir, Warren. 2007. “First Nation Small Business and Entrepreneurship in Canada”. Research Paper for the National Centre for First Nations Governance.

Diochon, Monica, Alison Mathie, Eileen Alma and Sheila Isaac. 2014. “Entrepreneurship among First Nations Women in the Atlantic Region”. The Atlantic Aboriginal Economic Development Integrated Research Program (AAEDIRP).