Entrepreneurs and other innovators from Songhees Nation got an investment from the federal government today with the announcement of over $93,000 in grant funding to grow Indigenous businesses.
The funding – part of a $27-million investment across Western Canada – will provide a boost for the Songhees Innovation Centre. The communal workspace and resource centre is already home to Animikii Indigenous Technology, a web-services company that builds custom software, apps and websites.
“Today’s announcement honours our entrepreneurs and our creatives,” Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam said.
Having those experts to engage with and provide direction is particularly important for young people, allowing them to find financial security down the road as potential business owners, he added.
“Our overall goal is to start bringing in members from Songhees that are in a position to maybe start down the path to creating a business or a company, or whatever their dreams are,” Sam said.
The Innovation Centre opened mid-way through 2017 and its impact is slowly trickling through the community, offering education and learning as well as adult programs. Sam hopes to use the new funding to link those resources more closely with the Centre.
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains reiterated the federal government’s priority in working to advance reconciliation and renew the relationship with Indigenous people.
“As part of reconciliation, it’s really about ensuring full participation in the Canadian economy,” he said.
From 2006 to 2016, Indigenous business in Western Canada grew by 42.5 per cent, compared to just 11 per cent growth in non-Indigenous businesses. Bains said one of the measures of that success is to continue to make sure Indigenous people receive the skills training and networking opportunities necessary to participate in the economy.
“If you don’t invest in skills, in training, in lifelong learning, then you’re really limiting people’s ability to reach their potential,” he said, adding it is “absolutely necessary for building a stronger, more unified and prosperous Canada.”
Saya Masso attended the announcement to personally thank the minister for funding that has enabled the construction of the Canoe Creek Hydro power plant on his home territory of Tla-o-qui-aht Nation, near Tofino.
The plant, Masso says, has created an economic engine producing dividends the nation can invest in other projects, services and facilities. Funding that can sustain growth is often hard to get, he added.
“You can’t every year just keep going after $10,000 grants, you need steady funding and growth. That’s why this project is so important,” he said, referring to today’s announcement.
The federal grant will also support a First Nations dialogue series, called Indigenous Connect, led by the South Island Prosperity Project, and Songhees Nation will also partner with the Victoria Foundation and Community Micro Lending Society to host these economic development events.