Laurier hosts Indigenous entrepreneurship panel for International Women’s Day

Photo by Darien Funk

To mark International Women’s Day on Mar. 8, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and Laurier’s Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC) hosted a live panel discussion featuring four Indigenous entrepreneurs.

The panelists included Jennifer Harper, CEO and founder of Cheekbone Beauty, Dakota Brant, CEO and co-founder of Sapling & Flint, Trish Meekins, owner of Nikaanaganaa Counselling & Learning Centre and Mallory Graham, founder of Tribal Trade Company. 

“The panel discussion is a collaboration between us and the Office of Indigenous Initiatives to offer an Indigenous lens on women entrepreneurship in Canada,” Tabitha Curley, program coordinator at WEC, said. 

Curley noted the importance that the panel would bring, both for those who tune in and for the panelists themselves.

“The Laurier platform obviously brings attention to these businesses, [but] they’re also offering something back to the Indigenous entrepreneurs who are tuning in and listening to their stories, struggles, journeys and their successes,” she said. 

The event was moderated by Tabatha Bull, President of the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business and was hosted via Zoom. 

The panel, which started at 12 p.m. and went until 1:30 p.m., touched on important topics of discussion. 

The panelists discussed various topics, such as a lack of infrastructural support—specifically on reserves—for Indigenous entrepreneurs. 

With many panelists offering services or products related to Indigenous cultures, the discussion also touched on topics such as the sharing of cultural knowledge and the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation. 

“‘Is it okay for me to be interested in Indigenous culture when selling their Indigenous jewelry or their products?’ That’s a common question that I think a lot of people in mainstream Canada do have,” Curley said. 

The panelists also discussed the hardships their businesses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While some mentioned they were having issues with supply chain impacts or the closing of their shopfronts, many panelists also emphasized the potential for growth that the pandemic can offer for businesses, specifically for e-commerce opportunities. 

One of the last topics of discussion during the event was focused on how entrepreneurs can find support for their business, to which many panelists emphasized the importance of building a support network and finding mentorship opportunities. 

“We’re hoping [the panel] creates a level of inspiration for future entrepreneurs to see Indigenous women being successful in mainstream business, and being able to have a mentor, someone to look up to,” Curley said. “Someone who’s also going through the same obstacles or trials and tribulations that they have gone through as entrepreneurs themselves.”

Curley also noted the Women Entrepreneurship Centre’s upcoming bi-monthly webinar series, with webinars on Mar. 24 and Mar. 31. 

“The Women Entrepreneurship Centre does service everybody—anyone in southern Ontario who identifies as a woman.”

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