Chippewas of the Thames wants to open social enterprise hub

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is studying the feasibility of opening a social enterprise hub similar to Innovation Works in London.

More than 60 entrepreneurs could benefit from the services of a social enterprise hub in Chippewa

An artists rendition of the Miinkaanens Hub envisioned for the First Nation, west of London

Ramona Sault envisions a cafe that helps people get job experience, an open space where people can work, a retail shop and offices that entrepreneurs can rent. 

It would be called the Miinkaanens Hub, which means "seed" in Ojiibwe and also stands for "social enterprise and economic development." 

Sault is the general manager of Thunderbird Trust, which uses revenue from a land claim settlement to invest in the community. Thunderbird Trust has partnered with Chippewas of the Thames First Nation to study how a social enterprise hub could work in the community. 

"For me, social enterprise is about having a social conscience to the land, to the community, to the people. It is already how we are as an Indigenous people — we are already social enterprise minded," Sault said. 

Social enterprise 'a natural fit'

Chippewas of the Thames recently got $55,000 from the provincial Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to conduct a feasibility study about the possibility of opening a social enterprise hub, similar to London's Innovation Works but on a smaller scale. 

"I think it's a natural fit and it will be defined by how the community defines it," Sault said. 

Thunderbird Trust already did a pre-feasibility study to see if the concept would work in Chippewa. 

"We found support for the idea. We even have information and research that shows that minorities and women thrive in this kind of environment," Sault said. 

Sault said there are more than 60 Chippewa entrepreneurs and businesses, and many can benefit from a social enterprise hub. 

"We have a team that is coming together to see what it could look like. It's a new concept and it's an interesting concept to get an understanding of and how it works and what it does," she said. 

Dwayne Kechego is with the Chippewas of the Thames Economic Development department. He says the concept of social enterprise will support entrepreneurs and grow businesses. 

"Our focus area benefits from partnerships we've created at all levels across southwestern Ontario as we seek opportunities for commercial development," he said. 

The chief and council are on board with the idea and community members will be consulted. 
Ramona Sault lives in London and works as General Manager at Thunderbird Trust in Chippewa of the Thames First Nation. (Submitted)