9 Indigenous entrepreneurs selected for support by EntrepreNorth

EntrepreNorth has nine months of mentorship and coaching to expand their businesses and bring new ones to life.

Northern entrepreneur support program builds up Indigenous-focused tourism

Bobbi Rose Koe is working on creating her own guiding business in the Peel watershed region. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Bobbi Rose Koe has dreamed of starting her own guiding business in the Peel watershed region since she was 16 years old and learning the ropes from her grandfather. 

"It's something that I've been dreaming about for a very long time. I told him, 'Shitsii [grandfather], I'm looking to start a business in the Peel,'" said Koe, who is Tetlit Gwich'in from Fort McPherson, N.W.T. 

Koe is one of nine entrepreneurs starting a nine-month program through EntrepreNorth, a project to help start up on-the-land tourism ventures and expand existing businesses. 

Koe is looking to start her own paddling adventure company with local guides in the Peel watershed. 

"I grew up in that area, so I'd just like to share my passion, my knowledge and the history of my people and being able to bring young people and have them guide on the rivers," she said. 

Many youth like being on the land, but find it difficult to turn it into a job, said Koe. 

Revenue generated from guiding visitors along the Peel River will support canoe programming for local youth.

"It's amazing how these kind of opportunities bring people together. I don't think it will only help me personally, but people, youth, communities, elders — trying to bring our people back on the land, but where they're able to financially gain from it and grow," said Koe.

Program addresses Indigenous under-representation

All the entrepreneurs participating are indigenous, with four from Nunavut, two from the N.W.T. and two from Yukon. 

"They all offer something unique to their own region and communities and unique to their own culture," said Benjamin Scott, EntrepreNorth project director. 

"There is a lot of under-representation of Indigenous tourism operators, so trying to uplift and support Indigenous-led businesses is really important," he said.

Starting up any business is difficult, and the North comes with its own challenges, said Scott.

The program is an opportunity for a diverse set of northern entrepreneurs to come together, share their culture and learn from a team that's devoted to them.

Iqaluit meets ocean-to-table cuisine

Inuvialuk Sheila Flaherty was in the top 24 of MasterChef Canada. She served hors d'oeuvres for Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla when they came to Iqaluit. 

Her business is named sijjakkut — Inuktitut for "by the seashore."

Sheila Flaherty's business, sijjakkut, will offer harvest-to-table experiences in Iqaluit. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Flaherty and her partner, Johnny, want to convert their home along the shores of Iqaluit into a bed and breakfast with a harvest-to-table enterprise. 

That means creating traditional and fusion Inuit dishes — and they'll take people out on the land and water for the harvest. 

Kugluktuk outfitter looks to ecotourism

Mavis Elias Adjun says she hopes to absorb as much as she can from the program, to expand her Kugluktuk-based sport hunting business to include ecotourism. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

The program will also support Mavis Elias Adjun of Kugluktuk. Adjun is looking to put a spin on her existing sport-hunting businesses, Adjun Adventures Outfitting. 

She was mentored by the previous owner, who died but who also had dreams of pursuing ecotourism.

 After hearing about the workshop, she decided it was time.

"We are Inuit. We live the land. We are the land, its waters. This is what we know, we live, we breathe, we eat, we are," she said. 

Existing businesses get support

James McPherson plans to expand his business, Sahtu Adventures Inc. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

James McPherson is one of the EntrepreNorth cohort looking to expand his business, Sahtu Adventures Inc. 

He wants to showcase Indigenous culture and combat negative portrayals of Indigenous peoples.

"I would like to show them the positive way of our life and our culture and our traditions, along with the history of our people," said McPherson. 

He offers hikes, fishing, canoe trips, boat shuttles and wildlife tours.

"I feel we have such a fascinating culture that nobody really knows about yet. I'd like to be the path leader that gets to promote that to the world and hopefully inspire other Indigenous people to start their businesses and share their culture," he said.