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No more beads or blankets.

Native business in the mainstream

Business savvy of Aboriginal people in Canada is slowly maturing from the past. In some cases the initiatives are individual while others are successful joint financial ventures by many tribes pooling funds and buying established businesses.

Last year Ottawa's national Aboriginal Business Development Program handed out $65 million across Canada to native free enterprisers. The ABDP is essentially a venture capital fund in which the cash is earmarked only for native-owned businesses.

The loan program, only in its second year of operation, has some very positive statistics. In April, an independent consultant completed an evaluation of the success of the program. After two years, 90 per cent of the businesses financed by ABDP are still operating -- 60 per cent of those firms are profitable or only showing a small loss. The program funded 292 companies which created 2,122 jobs at a cost per-job of $12,800, substantially lower than the per-job cost of previous native job creation programs -- $30,000 each.

The survey shows the most successful sectors to be construction and retailing. Some of the most solid new businesses are those on Indian reserves or in remote locations where no competition means a captive market.

Elsewhere, however, there is plenty of competition for Aboriginal businesses in most other markets like travel agencies, wild rice, funeral homes, or taxis and the myriad of small native initiatives. Nowhere is this competition more evident than in the financial services sector where the native-owned Peace Hills Trust of Alberta has managed to compete with other lending institutions. The Samson Cree Nation of Hobbema opened Peace Hills' doors 13 years ago using oil and gas revenues. Today the Trust has three branches in Alberta and one in Winnipeg and boasts assets of more than $281 million -- a 23.5 per cent increase in just one year. Brian Bender, assistant vice-president of the Manitoba Region, says the increased business activity in the Aboriginal community not only benefits his company; it's long overdue. Says Bender, "A lot more Aboriginals are conscious of economic development," he says. "They see it as the road for them to go. And although a lot of obstacles to them are not coming down, they're finding ways to go around them. There are stronger people in the communities and they're better educated than 10 years ago. There's a lot of younger chiefs -- quality people running the reserves."

Encouraging young Aboriginal people to become free enterprisers has become the passion of Barbara Bruce.

Bruce is the executive director of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, a blue-chip national organization which tries to bring together the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business communities.

At career symposiums all over the Manitoba, Bruce has a singular message for native high school kids.

"I promote business and try to convince Aboriginal students there is no other area they should be involved with."

She has a major fight on her hands for there are only four Aboriginal Canadians in Manitoba with a university degree in business studies. That is something that Bruce says will change.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Title Annotation:aboriginal Canadians in business
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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