'Refreshing change': Students excited about new U of A course on Indigenous business

A new course at the University of Alberta’s business school aims to educate students about challenges and opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Course covers Indigenous entrepreneurs’ obstacles and accomplishments

Introduction to Indigenous Business, a new course at the University of Alberta's School of Business, started this semester. (David Bajer/CBC)

A new course at the University of Alberta's business school aims to educate students about challenges and opportunities for Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Business professor David Deephouse developed the Introduction to Indigenous Business course after attending a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) event at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton in 2014 and participating in a workshop — taught by Jennifer Ward — on Indigenizing and decolonizing courses.

He views the elective class as a response to the TRC's 92nd call to action, which calls upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"We should all be doing it within businesses as part of corporate training, but also through our educational training and business education," Deephouse said Friday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

Through case studies and discussions, students learn about the economic effects of colonialism, treaties, the Indian Act, Indigenous development corporations, and sovereignty over natural resources.

Devin Siebold, a fourth-year MBA student, said he was drawn to the class because the subject matter seemed like a departure from typical business school case studies on American corporations. 

"When we do discuss racial diversity at all, we usually talk about the Aunt Jemima controversy," he said. 

"This is a refreshing change from your standard business school topics."

Siebold, who has Haida status as well as British and German heritage, said he has enjoyed the class discussions and learning about business cases involving different First Nations.

"I know some things about Haida culture, but overall, I'm still a white person and still experience society with white privilege and all that, so it is good to just hear more situations from other people and expand my mind to be a better human," he said.

According to Teddy Carter, a PhD student and teaching assistant at the business school, the U of A's new course is part of a small but growing movement to Indigenize education at business schools across the country.

As an MBA student, Carter reviewed Indigenous business courses at other institutions, finding they were more common at smaller tribal colleges than large universities. One exception was Simon Fraser University, which offers an executive MBA in Indigenous business.

Carter said anti-Indigenous sentiment and colonial attitudes expressed in classes made her feel isolated during her MBA at the U of A.

"I felt like the School of Business maybe wasn't for me as an Indigenous student," she said. Carter's family is from the Michel Band, whose ancestral lands are located north of Edmonton.

The course has only just begun, but she said discussions so far have been thoughtful and educated.

Deephouse might be the course's teacher, but he said he is learning a lot from the diverse experiences of his students.

"Every day goes by and there's something new and exciting to learn about in this area," he said.