First Nations entrepreneurs to get cash injection

Members of the Nishnabe-Aski Nation in the northeast could soon have access to some new business capital.

People can apply for a first-time loan of up to a $1,000

Members of the Nishnabe-Aski Nation in northern Ontario could soon have access to some new business capital.

The Nishnabe Aski Development Fund is piloting a micro-loan project on the Lac Seul reserve in the northwest.

The fund is matching a $10,000 commitment from the reserve with FedNor cash, for a total of $20,000 in seed money. People can apply for a first-time loan of up to a $1,000.

The fund is expected to be available to band members across the whole of northern Ontario in the next three to six months. 

Jennifer Constant, a band councillor with the Mattagami First Nation near Gogama, said with mining on the upswing in the region, now is an ideal time for First Nations people to invest in small businesses.

"Our population is tripling in this area," she said. "We see youth not doing the typical out-migration. They're staying in the area, and this is opportunity for them that's local, that's in their territory — [something] I believe they want to participate in."

Constant said new access to capital could also encourage local youth to think about entrepreneurship. 

While the program aims to stimulate the economy on reserves, it may help people get off social assistance.

"This is an opportunity for those individuals to migrate away from social assistance and begin to create some employment for themselves through entrepreneurship," said Colleen Martin, general manager of the Nishnabe Aski Development Fund.

Statistics Canada reports that people on reserve net an average of $17,000 per year.

Martin said applicants simply have to make the case for something that makes sense in the community, such as firewood provision, catering, a coffee shop or restaurant.

Business education training will also be available to new entrepreneurs.