The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is calling for a national program to provide loans for First Nation entrepreneurs— a move that would benefit a growing number of people in Sudbury who want to start new businesses.

The idea, which was introduced earlier this month at the Toronto Microfinance Summit, would help aspiring aboriginal business owners with little or no income gain access to capital.

“I believe that a national microfinance program that has the support of the private sector and all levels of government, could in fact be a game changer for many aboriginal and non-aboriginal people,” said Betty Ann Lavallée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

'A lot of financial institutions are reluctant to lend on reserve.' - Waubetek Director Dawn Madahbee

“With economic stability and prosperity, health outcomes would improve and social problems would lessen," she said.

Ron Sarazin, a coordinator at Gezhtoojig Employment & Training centre in Sudbury, has been working with unemployed First Nations people for years. Sarazin said he's seeing more and more people in the aboriginal community who want to open a business.

"You get electricians who want to start their own business, you get carpenters who want to start their own carpentry business. In a lot of the native areas, there are a lot of tourism opportunities,” Sarazin said.  

He also argues that the proximity of many First Nation communities to mining operations and parks means that starting a new business makes a lot of sense.

An organization called Waubetek Business Development Corporation currently offers funds to help First Nations businesses in northeastern Ontario. It provides loans and equity for about 100 new businesses a year.

But director Dawn Madahbee says that there are still many challenges for First Nations entrepreneurs.

"A lot of financial institutions are reluctant to lend on reserve,” she said. “So there's a tendency not to provide that service."

Microfinance programs offer loans and other financial services to low-income individuals who can't get them from mainstream banking institutions.