A Rich History of Indigenous Entrepreneurship in BC

Indigenous peoples have a long and proud history of entrepreneurship in British Columbia. Stretching back thousands of years, the Oolichan grease trails formed complex trading routes through territories where the valuable fish oil was moved. This vast network ran from the Yukon to Northern California, linking coastal and interior communities while supporting the trade of goods between nations.

Potlach Culture

This pre-contact economic activity went beyond trade – it was ceremonial. Many coastal nations are rooted in potlatch culture. The potlatch served many social, cultural, and economic purposes. In fact, the gift-giving feast has been described as a form of taxation and a formalized system of wealth distribution.

Colonization brought with it the reserve system and the federal passing of the Indian Act, transferring land ownership to the Crown. This and banning ceremonies like the potlatch disrupted Indigenous people’s cultural identity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Change is Happening

Fortunately, the process of reconciliation has brought about some change. A 2018 survey from Vancity reported that 48% of Indigenous entrepreneurs experienced systemic barriers to starting their own business five years ago, compared to just 21% now. Non-Indigenous Canadians and businesses are also starting to recognize and acknowledge Indigenous communities’ historical and legal challenges.

Efforts are being made to address these challenges and right historical wrongs. For real change to occur, Indigenous skills and entrepreneurial expertise must remain unlocked. Leaders like Carol Anne Hilton are at the forefront of this effort, with her Indigenomics Institute striving to create an Indigenous economy worth $100 billion annually.

As Indigenous communities continue to advance self-determination and sovereignty, economic growth and entrepreneurial activity are essential to the vibrancy of future generations.

While we recognize we still have progress to make, Small Business BC is proud to participate actively in this reconciliation journey.

Resources for Indigenous Entrepreneurs

BC is home to the largest number of Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada. If you’re an Indigenous entrepreneur looking to start or grow a business, SBBC is standing by to help you achieve success. Start with our Business Resources for Indigenous Entrepreneurs. Can’t find an answer to your question? Contact us at [email protected] and our team will be happy to help.