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Island natives seeking business partners.

Land and labor in abundance

Many opportunities exist for Natives and non-natives to work together, according to Dawn Madahbee, general manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation on Birch Island in northeastern Ontario.

"What we have to offer is a labor force in place. We have training delivery in place, and we also have land available," she says.

Madahbee says the general Manitoulin Island area has established forestry and service-sector industries, but it is lacking in light industry.

"We would like to see some light industry, and we are in the process of identifying companies we feel would work well with us."

In addition, Madahbee says the corporation is seeking out off-reserve opportunities for Native entrepreneurs.

"We would like to start or buy established businesses in key market areas off the reserve," she says.

According to Clayton Shawana, general manager of the Wikwemikong Development Corporation (WDC) on Manitoulin, Natives are not only willing, but also able, to be successful entrepreneurs.

"Understand that we are capable of managing money and resources. We can offer something," he says.

Wikwemikong, which has been in existence since 1983, has helped establish 43 new businesses. It has provided $227,029 in business funding, and last year spent an additional $370,000 helping businesses obtain $680,000 in grants.

"Our success is due to our credibility and the support of the chief and council. We opened a lot of doors for other Native bands," says Shawana.

He claims that many Native people possess special skills which could benefit non-Native business. He provides an example of using Natives to help with prospecting.

"Teach him your knowledge (geology and other sciences) and combine this with his knowledge of the land," he says.

Shawana believes that joint business ventures could be helpful in developing an understanding between Native and non-native societies, particularly concerning land claim negotiations and treaty rights.

"Why don't they (government) learn the Native culture before negotiating with them (Natives)? Let's sit down and negotiate about what you want and what we want. What we want is a common policy for all Natives," elaborates Shawana.

He compares the WDC to a bear ploughing through the bush making a trail for the smaller animals to follow. Waubetek Business Development Corporation on Birch Island is one of those animals following the trail.

Since opening its doors in April of 1990 Waubetek has helped create 79 full-time, 19 part-time and 15 seasonal jobs, and it has also helped to maintain six existing jobs.

"With job creation, we approach it in various ways. One of the big areas is through business development," says Madahbee.

The mandate of both organizations is to help provide funding, training and assistance for business development in the seven First Nations on Manitoulin Island.

Special funding was needed because many Natives had been turned down for assistance due to limitations of the federal Indian Act.

Because the act currently gives jurisdiction over Native lands to the Minister of Indian Affairs, Native entrepreneurs cannot use property as collateral to obtain bank financing.

DIFFERENCE

"When we first started Waubetek we did a study. We looked at every adult from 16 to 64. Of the 1061 homes 78 per cent had less than $20,000 in capital, and unemployment was 38 to 40 per cent. That is where we make a difference," explains Madahbee.

"We are hoping to update the study. I hear we are making an impact, but there is still a lot to do," she adds.

Another stumbling block to encouraging Native entrepreneurship is apathy, according to Shawana. He attributes it to fear of the unknown.

"That will be around for another 10 to 20 years," he predicts. "We need a gradual transition. It is not just Native elders, it is the society itself. We need to educate them."

It is Sharon Manitowabi's job as business development officer to help those people interested in business access the Aboriginal development program.

The program, which provides financial and development assistance to Native entrepreneurs and communities, is administered by the Aboriginal economic programs branch of Industry, Science and Technology.

"I go through and help formulate a business plan with them. If they like, I can refer them to experts (marketing or other business consultants) and also make a recommendation to Industry Science and Technology of Canada," she says.

Manitowabi uses several criteria to evaluate the proposals which are presented to her. She says would-be entrepreneurs must be committed to their plan, have realistic expectations and have considered several different avenues for marketing the business.

"Often they (entrepreneurs) come forth too soon, when they need to spend a little more time formulating their idea. It's a learning process, and my job is to encourage them," she says.

Madahbee admits that too often she is approached by someone with an idea for a business that already exists.

"I give them other options for food for thought. Still, we try to encourage them as much as we can," she adds.

"We have a lot of opportunities (on the reserves) that are not as visible. There is a need to know in our community what kind of opportunities exist. When you have a skeletal infrastructure like we do, there is a lot more than can be developed," says Madahbee.

She is quick to add, "All our dollars are invested. Every month we reinvest. We are not getting behind on investment opportunities."

Wikwemikong is one of four communities participating in the Ministry of Natural Resources-sponsored community forest pilot project designed to increase decision-making in management of local forests.

"We want to revive agriculture, and are trying to give forestry a big push. If we regulate what we are cutting down, then we have to have alternate employment (for those workers)," Shawana says.

"We are safeguarding traditional values by having a forest-management plan."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Ontario natives
Author:Brown, Stewart
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:966
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