Many First Nations Bands of British Columbia are still largely dependent on government subsidies, which are arguably failing to meet the needs of these communities. A lack of autonomy is perpetuated by a reserve system that was never meant to be permanent. Enter Cultural Entrepreneurship: First Nations communities taking control of their traditional lands to end government dependency and strengthen community through economic self-sufficiency while still preserving and deepening traditional values. It’s a mouthful. But First Nations entrepreneurs are already making it happen.
There have been waves of positive stories throughout British Columbia. Chief Clarence Louie transformed the bankrupt Osoyoos First Nation Band of 1984 into the prosperous portfolio of nine enterprises that it holds today. The Osoyoos Spirit Ridge Resort and Nk’Mip Cellars Winery leverage the Osoyoos culture to offer an authentic aboriginal experience to travellers and set them apart from the competition. Further to the coast in Whistler, B.C., the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, showcasing the Lil’wat and Squamish cultures, has been popular since opening its doors in June 2008. The centre capitalizes on the concentrated flow of foreign and domestic tourism through Whistler and those wishing to include Aboriginal culture as a portion of their vacation experience. The centre, run jointly by the Squamish and Lil’wat Nations, also provides Aboriginal Tourism training to develop leadership and employment skills among the band members.
The Aboriginal youth population in Canada is growing at more than twice the rate of the whole population. Entrepreneurial ventures run by First Nations band members will create jobs for this expanding generation of youth, who may otherwise have limited opportunity on reserves. And having access to opportunities available for these up-and-coming bright minds will be important. Aboriginal Tourism BC (AtBC) seeks to help some of these aspiring young people through their Entrepreneurship Program. The entity provides business plan development help to various First Nations that apply. In the future, AtBC seeks to also provide capital to put those plans in motion. The Opening Doors to Youth program through BCIT also ran an entrepreneurship program, where BCIT students led a group at Mount Currie High School in Lillooet to manage businesses including Lil’wat Cinema, a T-shirt company called MC Wear, and a drop-in soccer night.
The result of cultural entrepreneurship could be autonomy and self-sufficiency with the retention of cultural values. It’s a nice formula. But not all of the communities in British Columbia have seen the same success as the Osoyoos, the Squamish and the Lil’Wat bands. The various resources available to facilitate the process will be important.
The varied story of Aboriginal cultural in British Columbia is a compelling one, and creating businesses that share this story while also achieving economic independence and creating opportunities for youth shows promise for First Nations development throughout the province.