Indigenous youth pitch ideas at annual business camp

The annual FNUniv Aboriginal Entrepreneurship camp is happening this week in Regina.

Youth from as far as Newfoundland and Labrador have arrived at FNUniv to learn to be entrepreneurs

Participants at the 9th annual Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp plan a commercial shoot for their mock business ideas at the First Nations University of Canada. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

Indigenous high school students from across Canada get a chance to bring their business ideas to life this week in Regina.

The First Nations University of Canada's 9th Annual Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp kicked off this week with some traditional knowledge.

"I think for the kids, they didn't know they would learn a lot of traditional things," Andrew Starblanket, assistant camp co-ordinator, told CBC News.

"We had a teepee-raising demonstration by Wendell Starblanket, and he really engages the kids on how to become successful when you use spirituality in your life," he said.

"It taught them a lot of things from the teepee teachings: discipline, sacrifice, patience and that all goes through on how to be an entrepreneur."

In addition to learning about becoming entrepreneurs, Starblanket said, there are a lot of extra activities including teepee building, a pipe ceremony, golfing, movies and gym nights.

The cohort of 18 young entrepreneurs comprises students in Grade 11 and 12. 

AYEC students workshop their commercial for a Cree translation app. Students have created business plans they will pitch to a panel of judges at an awards ceremony later this week. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC News)

Nancy Nochasak, who travelled from Nain, NL, to participate in the week-long camp, is one of three students from out of province. She heard about it because Starblanket had met her sister at a conference last year and reached out to her.

"She thought it was a good idea to tell me about it," said Nochasak, who is going into Grade 12.

"We've been learning how to start up [a] business … and all the components with starting [it]," she said. 

The kids always surprise us every year with their ideas and ability to get their work done in a week.- Thomas Benjoe

Nochasak, who is Inuit, said her community is surrounded by mountains so the landscape in Regina is definitely "a big difference," but the knowledge she is getting will help her achieve her dream of opening up a restaurant someday.   

AYEC recently voted to support the camp's pursuit of being nationally recognized at the Assembly of First Nations 38th Annual General Assembly. The goal is to make next year's AYEC a special 10th anniversary camp.

One of the camp founder's, Thomas Benjoe, was just a student when the idea became a reality nine years ago.

"It was to create an opportunity for our kids to take an interest in business and entrepreneurship," said Benjoe, who is currently president and CEO of FHQ Developments Inc. "There were no other camps available for First Nations youth."

Benjoe says the camp has inspired participants to start their own business and pursue post-secondary education, something he says might not have happened without the camp.

Campers learn about cash management, creating market plans for their business idea and making a commercial. The final day consists of team pitches to Saskatchewan business representatives who select the winning ideas. 

"We built it from scratch in its first year and it's done really well," Benjoe said. "The kids always surprise us every year with their ideas and ability to get their work done in a week."


Brad Bellegarde

Reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Saskatchewan

Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, he holds an Indian Communication Arts Certificate from the First Nations University of Canada and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Regina. Follow him on Twitter @BBellegardeCBC