Calgary

New fund helps 'absolutely incredible' Indigenous women grow their businesses

Indigenous women leaders will have a new options to grow their businesses through a new fund offering loans.

'When one of us makes it, success breeds success,' entrepreneur Holly Fortier says

Entrepreneur Holly Fortier says representation in business helps other Indigenous women succeed. A new fund will offer small loans to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

Indigenous women leaders will have a new options to grow their businesses.

The Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship Fund is now open to women who may lack access to conventional funding.

It was announced this week in Calgary that the fund will provide a 36-month interest-free loan of up to $4,000 to entrepreneurs, for only a small administration fee.

Entrepreneur Holly Fortier says the funding will push Indigenous women through new doors of opportunity.

"Here's the thing: when one of us makes it, success breeds success," Fortier said. "You know, I'm really excited for that. The future's so bright."

She said she credits her own mother, also an entrepreneur, for paving the way for female business owners.

JP Gladu, president and CEO for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, says he hopes more are encouraged to take the leap, thanks to the fund his organization has launched.

Any entrepreneurs can apply online for the funding, although they must own the majority of their company in order to qualify.

"Our female Indigenous entrepreneurs are absolutely incredible. They're proliferating around the country," Gladu said.

JP Gladu, president and CEO for the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, says he hopes more are encouraged to take the leap. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, which hosted the 2019 Aboriginal Economic Development Conference at the Westin Calgary this week, builds relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people through business, community and diverse programming. It provides tools, training, network connections and national events --- including major business awards.

'Starting point'

This fund is the latest in its efforts and was launched due to donations from CIBC and the Indigenous Women's Leadership Summit.

"There's so many people that want to support this and this is a starting point," Gladu said. 

In the applications process, women will be asked to tell their story of how they would use the funds.

Successful applicants will receive up to $4,000, "but sometimes that's all you need to get to the next level," Gladu said.

"You talk about Indigenous people being biased against in this country, for sure. It's amplified when you're an Indigenous woman," he said.

Hard work, great attitude

Fortier, who is Cree and Dene from Fort Mckay First Nation in Alberta, started Nitso Consulting in 2002. Her company specializes in developing and presenting on Indigenous awareness training programs across Canada.

She got the idea when asking to present such a session as a favour to a friend. Now she's also a filmmaker with three documentaries in the works.

"You work hard and have that great attitude, the doors are going to come knocking," Fortier said. "And the opportunities for us [Indigenous women] are incredible."

Whitecap Dakota First Nation of Saskatchewan Chief Darcy Bear said he's learned that education a key pathway to becoming a successful business owner.

Dakota First Nation of Saskatchewan Chief Darcy Bear says he's seen the power of business education. He is the board chair for the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. (Livia Manywounds/CBC)

He is the board chair for the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, which offers a two year business administration program.

"It's important to get the business acumen to our people but our women are leading the way," Bear said. "By working together, we can all make a stronger Canada."

About the Author

Livia Manywounds is a reporter with the CBC in Calgary, a rodeo competitor and a proud member of the Tsuut’ina First Nation.