Piikani First Nation woman helping build bridges between business and Indigenous communities

Shawna Morning Bull talks about the progress being made between the Indigenous community and business community to help nurture and develop a new generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Shawna Morning Bull honoured with Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award for developing Indigenous entrepreneurs

Shawna Morning Bull (far right) accepts the Chief Crowchild Memorial Award from Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The award is for her dedication to improving the lives and economy of First Nations communities in Alberta. (CBC News)

Chief David Crowchild was considered a trailblazer for his work bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together.

On Wednesday, an award named in his honour was given to ​Shawna Morning Bull of the Piikani First Nation for her dedication to improving the lives and the economy of Indigenous people.

Morning Bull, the business manager for the Community Futures Treaty 7 group, is following in the chief's footsteps by helping small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

At the same ceremony, Wacey Little Light, who studies ecotourism and outdoor leadership at Mount Royal University, received the Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award. 

Morning Bull spoke to The Homestretch this week about her work seeking socially innovative ways to help nurture a new generation of First Nations entrepreneurs.

Q: How do you feel?
A: Excited — and humbled.

Q: Tell us about the award you received.
It recognizes individuals or groups of people or organizations that bridge gaps culturally or [by providing] employment training — or are just out there, connecting those communities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Q: What's your involvement?
I've been on [the Community Futures Treaty 7 group] board since 2011. We're working on different projects — solar power, wind — because as you know, in southern Alberta, we have lots of wind. And where there's wind, there's sun.

We're working on some projects down there, and it's pretty exciting to be working in economic development. Smart communities can be self-sustaining.

Q: Talk about bridging that gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community.

A: We have a resource group that started in 2010 and at that time, there was only three of us at the table: the Blood Tribe, Alberta Indian Invest Corporation, and Community Futures Treaty 7.

Now it's grown where we have a group of MPP post-secondary institutions, like SAIT, Junior Achievement, to name just a few, [as well as] the bands — Tsuut'ina, Blood Tribe, Piikani. We bring them together at the table and talk about the challenges our entrepreneurs face.

Q: What are some of the obstacles they face?
Capital. Access to capital. Collateral.

Q: Why?
There's not a lot of jobs on the First Nations that allow people to save money — so when they do try and start a small business, they need equity — and so if the lender is going to put some skin the game, they want the entrepreneur to put some skin in the game.

Sometimes the challenge is saving that money. Often times, they're working paycheque to paycheque.

Wacey Little Light received the Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award Wednesday. Growing up in Siksika, Little Light's grandparents taught him the importance of community. He studies ecotourism and outdoor leadership at Mount Royal University. “This award means a lot to me,” says Little Light. “I hope it can provide a stronger foundation for me to be a contributing member in the communities that I’m a part of, including The City of Calgary, The Siksika Nation, and The Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University.” (Ellis Choe/CBC News)

Q: What needs to happen?

A: Awareness. Working with the individuals, [providing them with] training and allowing them to come to the table and say, 'these are options for you and there are ways to save money.'

Some of the First Nations have grant equity programs that can help them utilize that service, so they can take that equity to the bank — but it's putting a business plan together with financial statements and sometimes, if you're not keen on doing that, you're going to drag your feet.

Q: What kind of support are you getting?

A: At Community Futures Treaty 7 and our resource group, we all work together to have training and we work together  to have a symposium — we usually have one in the fall and this year, we're going to have our 20th annual youth entrepreneur symposium at Grey Eagle [Casino].

It's [all about] bringing together individuals who are like-minded that want to start these businesses and bringing these resources in to give them opportunity and ideas that they can use and share.

Q: Do you have any success stories to share?
There is an individual who came to our camp back in 2008 or 2009 who put together a business plan with his group and presented it to a bankers' panel. The bankers' panel gave them awesome feedback, and they ended up starting a restaurant on Siksika.

There's another girl. She was working retail and actually wanted to be a crafts person and make earrings and beadwork — so she left her job, and took a leap of faith, and after getting it done, was actually invited to put some of her wares in the Golden Globe swag bags.

Q: Are you developing role models who can serve as an inspiration for the younger generation?
Absolutely. In our youth symposium, we have panels and bring back these entrepreneurs to talk about their success stories. And where they come and where they've gone to, and some have even become facilitators. We do have our group of mentors, helping and talking about the good, the bad and the ugly [of starting your own business].

With files from The Homestretch