June is National Indigenous History Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the diverse cultures, contributions, heritage, and histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada. More than that, we want to focus on the Indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada who are making significant strides in the business world, combining their cultural heritage with innovative ideas and sustainable practices.
According to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, there are over 60,000 Indigenous businesses here in Canada. We want to spotlight five Canadian-Indigenous business leaders who positively impact their communities and beyond.
Steven Vanloffeld is a Saugeen First Nation entrepreneur passionate about the economic development of Indigenous communities. He is the Founder and CEO of eSupply Canada, a national online distributor of office, janitorial, industrial, and promotional supplies.
Steven is committed to giving back to Indigenous communities and does just that through the eSupply Canada Future Leaders Scholarship Program. Most recently, eSupply Canada saw that the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre was facing a shortfall in funding for its Summer Splash Camp, which supports cultural education among urban Indigenous kids and their peers. eSupply Canada responded by subsidizing eight weeks of camp for nine kids with a donation of $3,000.
We caught up with Steven and asked him how his cultural heritage and personal background have shaped his approach to business.
“ Traditional values are core to eSupply Canada’s mission, vision, and values. We embrace the 7 Grandfather Teachings in principle, policy, and practice. By adhering to these Teachings, we are able to stay true to ourselves and create value for our customers while competing in a market economy. ” said Steven.
Sḵwálwen (skwall – win) Botanicals is a luxury Indigenous brand creating botanical skin care products rooted in Indigenous cultural traditions and sustainable practices. Leigh Joseph is the visionary behind the brand and comes from the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) First Nation. Each product is handcrafted using traditional plant knowledge and ethically sourced ingredients.
The Ceremony Series is a unique offering from Sḵwálwen Botanicals of small-batch, extra-luxe, handmade skincare and wellness experiences. They donate 10% of sales from every Ceremony release to an organization that supports Indigenous communities. The Hiyam Project is a collaboration between Sḵwálwen Botanicals and Satinflower Nurseries, facilitating thousands of seeds planted on Indigenous lands. The initiative was launched in 2021, and the Hiýáḿ Project’s first iteration featured coastal mugwort seed packets distributed to Sḵwálwen customers in tandem with the Pauquachin, Scia’new, and Tsartlip communities on southern Vancouver Island.
We asked Leigh how her cultural heritage and personal background have shaped her approach to business.
“My culture is at the foundation of how I run and grow Skwálwen Botanicals. I draw on cultural teachings at every turn. It is essential to me to follow teachings of being responsible, respectful and reciprocal in how I approach entrepreneurship. Following these teachings means I am making business decisions with environmental sustainability, community priorities and cultural context in mind,” said Leigh.
Birch Bark Coffee Co was founded in 2018 by Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, an Ojibwe and a Band Member of Whitefish River First Nation located on Birch Island, Ontario, in the District of Manitoulin Island. Mark’s mission is to change Indigenous lives across Canada by bringing Indigenous-grown coffee to the forefront.
Through partnerships with coffee farmers of Indigenous descent, Mark ensures fair trade practices and showcases the unique flavours and stories behind each bag. A portion of Birch Bark Coffee’s proceeds goes into Indigenous communities, supporting educational initiatives and economic development.
Jeff Ward has been the driving force behind Animikii Indigenous Technology since its inception in 2003. He has combined technology with Indigenous knowledge to bridge the digital divide. Animikii develops websites and custom software for leading Indigenous-focused organizations from all industries to drive positive change for Indigenous Peoples through technology. Jeff’s commitment to empowering Indigenous peoples in the digital realm has led to numerous partnerships and initiatives, creating economic growth and self-determination opportunities.
We asked Jeff his thoughts on this month and what it means to Animikii.
“ As we mark Indigenous History Month, I love to see celebrations of the diversity of Indigenous cultures across Turtle Island. Yes, it’s a time for honouring our history, and this month is also about shaping a future where Indigenous voices lead in commonly excluded spaces, like technology. At Animikii, we navigate this digital age guided by honouring cultural teachings and our history, using technology to tell our stories, amplify voices, and empower our communities. Let’s continue to weave our stories into the digital fabric of the future, ensuring the spirit of our people thrives for generations to come ,” said Jeff.
Mitch Gegwetch founded Resist Clothing in 2020, a Toronto-based Indigenous streetwear fashion label that ignites global conversations through Indigenous-designed and art-infused apparel. Inspired by his Ojibwe heritage, Mitch’s clothing line incorporates Indigenous art, symbols, and messages that challenge stereotypes and promote Indigenous resilience.
Beyond fashion, Resist Clothing has raised & donated more than $60,000 to The Legacy of Hope Foundation and the Orange Shirt Society while amplifying Indigenous voices, inspiring allyship, strengthening resilience, and sparking transformative conversations.
These five Indigenous entrepreneurs exemplify the vibrant spirit and resilience of Indigenous business owners in Canada. They have created successful enterprises through innovative ventures, uplifted their communities, promoted cultural preservation, and challenged stereotypes. Their stories serve as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs, demonstrating that business can be a powerful vehicle for positive change and community development.