Edmonton

Indigenous women entrepreneurs celebrate culture through commerce in Alberta

Indigenous women are breaking through as entrepreneurs in the province, making their mark with Alberta consumers.

'It's about allowing people the opportunity to get a glimpse of who we are'

Mallory Yawnghwe, founder of Indigenous Box, is part of a growing community of women-led Indigenous businesses in Alberta. (Submitted by Mallory Yawnghwe)

For Mallory Yawnghwe, this is a big moment for Indigenous business. 

"We are at the very beginning of creating a movement that is going to bring good fortune to our communities, to really celebrate Indigenous communities and the legacy of greatness we've inherited as Indigenous people," Yawnghwe told CBC's Radio Active.

We hear from two young indigenous women Mackenzie Brown and Mallory Yanghwe about their work.

Yawnghwe is the founder of Indigenous Box, an Edmonton-based subscription service that features products from First Nations, Métis and Inuit businesses. She's part of a growing community of female Indigenous entrepreneurs in Alberta.

Last year, Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA), a non-profit group that encourages and promotes Indigenous tourism, learned through a survey that almost half of its member businesses are led by women.

From a basement to a warehouse

Indigenous Box began in Yawnghwe's basement, supporting what she calls the "original supply chain" and championing other Indigenous business owners.

Through the organization New Relationship Trust, Yawnghwe entered a Young Entrepreneurs Symposium Challenge. Her business plan and proposal earned her a grant and within 11 months, Indigenous Box moved out of her basement into a 3,500-square-foot facility in Edmonton. 

Yawngwhe assembles Indigenous Boxes, ready to send to subscribers. Each box showcases Indigenous businesses and products. (Submitted by Mallory Yawnghwe)

Yawnghwe found her entrepreneurial spirit early while growing up on Saddle Lake Cree Nation.

"I was eight years old and I was selling cupcakes out of a cardboard box at a powwow," she remembers.

"I really think back on it now and I'm like, 'All the people who bought from me really just helped me realize that I wanted to do this sort of thing and follow my dream to be an entrepreneur.'

"They bought [them] because they wanted to pass along the idea that you can do anything."

Now Yawnghwe is eager to show other Indigenous women what business leadership can look like.

"I know that this journey isn't my own," she said. "It's about community building. It's about allowing people the opportunity to get a glimpse of who we are as Indigenous people.

"It's an opportunity for us to rise up and take up space unapologetically, and make room for as many people as we can."

Celebrating the next generation

Leading up to March 8, which is International Women's Day, ITA has been highlighting female entrepreneurs on its website, showcasing products and the stories behind them.

"We're really surrounded by these very fierce and strong Indigenous women," said Mackenzie Brown, director of industry development for ITA.

Brown, who grew up on Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, said seeing entrepreneurs thrive has been inspiring. 

Mackenzie Brown, left, and her mother, Matricia Bauer. Brown is helping to showcase Indigenous entrepreneurs for Indigenous Tourism Alberta. (Submitted by Mackenzie Brown)

"There are some pretty horrific statistics when we look at missing and murdered Indigenous relations," she said.

"The fact that we have Indigenous women spearheading the tourism industry in Alberta is so amazing."

For Brown, the way women business leaders tell their stories and support their communities feels different.

"Women typically are the life-givers within society and we are the growers of people, of culture, of stories," she said.

"I can't emphasize how important it is for women's voices to be at the forefront of things because I think that it moves things forward in a very different way."

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