An Introduction to Decolonizing and Reconciling Entrepreneurship

My name is Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee of the Squamish Nation, founder of Decolonizing Practices and M̓i tel’nexw Leadership Society. I am a decolonial facilitator and I call myself an Indigenous changemaker. I’ve been in communications and design for 20 plus years in First Nations-specific contexts, but in the last three years I moved in a different direction, founding Decolonizing Practices and creating a giant game board called Sinulkhay and Ladders to start having facilitated decolonizing dialogues with all kinds of people.

My aim is to contribute to undoing colonial conditioning and ongoing oppression in a way that I think is helpful. I want to bring to the surface and talk about a lot of things people don’t really have a space to talk about.

What role do businesses have to play in the process of reconciliation?

I never see business and personal life as separate. There are so many ways businesses can play their part and the role they play can influence society in so many ways. Everything from supply chain, to human resources, to impact investment, to being social influencers can contribute to reconciliation.

Business can look at their hiring practices. Ask themselves are they inclusive of Indigenous peoples? There’s also ways you can be a positive influence in your community. Businesses can stand up and tell others what they believe and how they’re contributing in a positive way. Just being really clear and honest about the different methods you’re embracing as an organization can make a difference.

What does the term “decolonizing entrepreneurship” mean to you?

Michelle NahaneeDecolonizing entrepreneurship has meant recalibrating what success means to me. It’s moving beyond just seeing your bottom line as your profit. It widens that bottom line to include my family’s happiness, and is considerate of future generations and how my decisions impact upon them. It’s looking at your business and how it contributes positively to your community.

Decolonizing means taking out the dominant narratives of entrepreneurship as financial gain as the only metric for success. Instead, I believe my success is really grounded in my relationship with my family, my community and my Nation – how I hold myself accountable to those people and my ancestors.

Some of those ways are specifically linked to Indigenous ways of being, or Squamish ways of being. There are some messages and methodologies in there that I think can support everybody to conduct business in a healthy way. For me, it’s been liberating to feel healthier – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – in my business. This is in contrast to earlier versions of how I was approaching my business life. I was working too many hours, not looking after my health and my relationship time, and using financial gain as my measure of perfection.

These are just a few of the ideas I’m holding and working with in terms of decolonizing entrepreneurship.

What are some practical steps people can take in their own businesses?

If people are interested in reconciliation, they should think of decolonizing first. Look at how you’re approaching your relationship to the First Nations whose land you’re operating your business on. Are you acknowledging their territory? Are you going further by being in good relations with the First Nations? Are you going even further by ensuring that you’re not contributing to any harm to Indigenous peoples?

It’s really unpacking complicity in settler colonialism. Are you contributing to settler colonialism, or are you working to undo settler colonialism? Undoing includes things like working to remove the invisible border between Indigenous communities and everybody else. That’s one example. Another is having an Indigenous Cultural Safety Plan within your organization. If somebody says a racist joke, or otherwise contributes to damaging narratives, the company has worked on how to respond to those things and your team knows it’s not acceptable within the organization.

This is how we can support undoing this kind of damage. Unfortunately, a lot of those cultural safety plans aren’t in place and there isn’t any kind of decolonial practices or even awareness in the workplace. When somebody makes a racist comment in the workplace and it isn’t challenged it becomes a small ember of a fire. Nobody puts them out, they just keep growing, and it becomes ugly.

This is another example of what organizations can do just to be in preparation to have good relations with Indigenous peoples. Take that stand and work within your organization for awareness about anti-Indigenous racism.

How can people get involved with your important work?

I have a workbook people can buy; it’s called the Decolonize First workbook. I created it as a self-directed study and within the workbook there are links to other resources for folks to really start raising awareness and move towards taking action. The next step is to hire us to do a Decolonizing Practices workshop within your organization. During COVID, we’ve developed an online version of the game we play with groups, so it all works seamlessly remotely.

There’s also a four-week course offered by M̓i tel’nexw Leadership Society. The goal of the course is to help people unlearn supremacy and embrace Squamish ways of being. This course is really powerful and unlike anything that exists in terms of cultural competency or awareness. It’s led by Squamish elders and I’ve been able to use my facilitation and digital skills to amplify their voices. These are the people who taught me and they are now opening up access to those teachings to everybody.

BCIT offer an online course called Indigenous 101. It’s between 12 and 20 hours of work to start to understand our history from our lens and our perspective.

Ultimately, there’s a lot people can do even if they aren’t in day-to-day relations with Indigenous peoples. You’re still in Canada, there’s still a lot of anti-Indigenous racism, and we’re still a settler colonial state. Every individual can start to unpack their impact, the history, and decide on what their role is within that space instead of passively accepting the way things are.

I believe the way we can achieve change is one person at a time, one conversation at a time. Even if you aren’t interacting regularly with Indigenous peoples, your sphere of influence can still contribute to the dismantling of racism.