Indigenous artists in Western Canada work in contemporary and more traditional genres, including painting, leather, weaving, mask making, woodcarving, and soapstone. Indigenous artists are also members of dance and theatre companies and work as dancers, professional circus performers, choreographers, and musicians. A number of organizations in British Columbia work to support indigenous artists and to promote and protect the cultural heritage, language, and culture of indigenous people. Among them are the Banff Centre, Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance, and many others.
Renowned Indigenous Artists
Artists such as Mary Lou Big Canoe, Sheila Toderian, and Dale Auger are well-known for their works of art, eye for detail, and unique imagery. Mary Lou Big Canoe is known for her animal spirit carvings made from antler and bones as well as for her bead and leather work, quill work, rattles, and drums. Sheila Toderian is an indigenous artist who works in ink, pen, oil, and acrylic and specializes in landscapes, family paintings, and portraits of domestic animals. An indigenous artist from the Bigstone Cree Nation, Dale Auger earned a PhD in Education from the University of Calgary. He was a visual artist and an educator who died from cancer in 2008. He painted humans, beasts, and birds in bright and blue colors such as black, blue, and yellow and explored themes such as the link between land and spirituality. Donna Lynn Debassige Brinkworth is an Ojibwe artist living in Alberta and drawing inspiration from Canadian landscape and wildlife. She paints eagles, ravens, bears, owls, birds, and other wild animals, and her eagle art collection includes paintings titled Night Eagle, Friendship, Four Eagles, and Eagles and Sun. Other paintings by Donna Brinkworth are Good Morning, Bear Totem, and A Million Lights in the Sky. Other indigenous artists from Western Canada include names such as Nona Foster, David Flower, Barbara Derrick, Crystal Lee Clark, and Jase Carson. Indigenous artists work in different art forms, including moccasin making, painting on canvas, birch bark baskets, and cedar weaving.
Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance
The Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance is an organization that supports arts organizations and performing artists. Its membership base includes Alberta Aboriginal Arts, Beneath the Surface Society, and others. Members organize and host community events, concerts, and festivals that celebrate indigenous culture and heritage. The festivals organized by indigenous organizations showcase visual artists, dance performances, circus acrobats, storytelling, theatre performances, and musicians. There are indigenous groups and organizations that host events to showcase Inuit culture. Many groups organize family-friendly, alcohol-free events.
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
Located in Banff, Alberta, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity works to help indigenous artists to produce works of art, supporting new media and visual artists, choreographers, dancers, musicians, and writers. The centre organizes and hosts a number of events such as exhibitions, publications, workshops, forums, and summits. Other events hosted by the Banff Centre include presentations, residencies, storytelling, concerts, and performances. Programs offered by the centre include Mountain and Wilderness Writing and Mountain Photography Residency.
Other organizations that support indigenous artists include the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society, based in Alberta, Dancers of Damelahamid in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Compaigni V’ni Dansi in Vancouver, British Columbia, and others.
Indigenous entrepreneurs have grown in number in Canada but still face challenges such as access to private and public financing. Support is available under governmental programs and by Aboriginal institutions and Aboriginal financial institutions.
Challenges That Indigenous Startups Face
The main challenges to indigenous entrepreneurship include lack of access to business networks, skilled laborers and capital and lack of infrastructure in isolated local communities. Infrastructure includes reliable electricity, airports, access to roads, etc. Indigenous entrepreneurs also face challenges such as stereotyping and discrimination, lack of training and education and in some cases, language barriers.
Organizations That Support Entrepreneurs
A number of organizations offer support to indigenous entrepreneurs, among which the Small Business Enterprise Centres and Aboriginal Financial Institutions.
The Small Business Enterprise Centres offer professional advice and services such as referrals to accountants and lawyers, business counseling, and assistance with business registration, permits, and licenses. Entrepreneurs also benefit from workshops and seminars, networking opportunities and mentoring, and information about exporting and importing practices, trademarks, copyright, and patents.
Aboriginal Financial Institutions
Aboriginal financial institutions operate across Canada, in cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and others. Organizations in the Northwest Territories, for example, include the Sahtu Business Development Centre and Dogrib Area Community Futures while Ulnooweg Development Group Inc. operates in Nova Scotia. The Artic Co-operative Development Fund operates in Manitoba and offers funding in the form of working capital, long-term, and development financing. Development financing is available to fund expansion and improvements and to buy equipment and buildings. Other services offered to indigenous entrepreneurs include cooperative and facility development under the Co-Operative System in the NWT, Nunavut and Northern Manitoba.
First Peoples Economic Growth Fund
Based in Winnipeg, the First Peoples Economic Growth Fund offers a number of programs such as the Skills Development Program, Community Economic Expansion Program, and Joint Venture Program. The Community Economic Expansion Program offers financial assistance for acquisitions, expansions, and startups, helping businesses to gain access to working capital and to cover startup costs. Financing is available in the form of interest-free loans with a term of up to 10 years. The loan amount can be used for expansion or upgrading or to buy an existing business or start a business. Loans for refinancing are not available. Funding is also offered under the Entrepreneur Loan Program, and applicants benefit from interest-free loans that can be used to secure working capital and cover project costs. Only applicants of legal age who are members of a Manitoba First Nation qualify. The Joint Venture Program offers financing for large-scale projects, and funding is available in the form of mortgages, term loans, convertible debentures, convertible preferred shares, and preferred and common shares. Applicants under the program are asked to provide business information such as the number of positions maintained and created, business location and structure, brief history, and business opportunity. They are also asked about business costs such as fees and licenses, operating expenses, inventory, vehicles, equipment, and buildings and land. The Aftercare Program also targets entrepreneurs who benefit from professional support and funding, which is non-repayable.
Other regional organizations that offer advice, funding, and assistance to indigenous entrepreneurs include the Metis Economic Development Fund, Native Fishing Association, All Nations Trust Company, and Alberta Indian Investment Corporation. Some organizations have multiple branches and offices and operate across provinces and territories, one example being the Ulnooweg Development Group. There are also organizations that offer financing in the form of grants and loans, available to both non-status and status Aboriginals who are looking to refinance, expand, or start a new business.