Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Young Urban Aboriginal Women Entrepreneurs: Social Capital, Complex Transitions and Community Support

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Young Urban Aboriginal Women Entrepreneurs: Social Capital, Complex Transitions and Community Support

Article excerpt

The employment pattern of young people is particularly significant for the economic, social and cultural vitality of urban Aboriginal communities. This study of young women entrepreneurs focuses upon the role of social capital in transitions to self-employment. It considers how social capital operates through networks within and between groups, has effects which are positive and negative in youth transitions, assists personal development and contributes to the community. The complex transitions of young women into self-employment occur at the same time as educational careers and family responsibilities are developing. Support for young Aboriginal people seeking self-employment is provided through a number of government-supported programmes. Focus group discussions, with young women whose businesses are predominantly in creative and cultural industries, reveal the role of social networks within Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in their development and demonstrate their commitment to giving something back to their communities through their businesses.

Keywords: self-employment, social capital, urban Aboriginal women, youth

Urban Aboriginal youth in Canada constitute a complex and diverse population. For some young urban Aboriginal people there is a likelihood of growing up in poverty followed by poor educational attainment and unemployment. For others, transitions through school lead to vocational or higher education qualifications, followed by positive career development. This pattern of diversity is complex and gradually changing. This article, using concepts of social capital, focuses upon the trajectories of urban Aboriginal youth through consideration of the careers of a small number of young women entrepreneurs on Canada's west coast. It explores transitions into selfemployment, analyses the role of social networks in the development of their careers, summarises the context of provision to support Aboriginal selfemployment and considers the values which lead to their contributions to urban Aboriginal communities.

The project summarised here is part of ongoing research into the contributions of urban Aboriginal youth to the sustainability of their communities through their work, political action and cultural development. This aspect of the research was developed through contacts with the Urban Aboriginal Economic Development National Network (http://abdc.bc.ca/ uaed). Its findings are being applied through the preparation of educational materials in further collaboration with Aboriginal youth. A study of selfemployment amongst young men in urban Aboriginal communities is at the design stage.

Urban Aboriginal youth: demographic and social significance

The demographic, economic and social significance of the young urban Aboriginal population is well documented. The Aboriginal population in Census Metropolitan areas doubled within the twenty years between 1981 and 2001, and the majority of Canada's Aboriginal people now live in urban areas (Siggner and Costa 2005; Statistics Canada 2008). The median age of the urban Aboriginal population in 2006 was 27 years, while children and youth under the age of 24 make up almost one half of the population (Statistics Canada 2008). In Vancouver, the location for this study, the median age for Aboriginal people is 31 years, with about four in ten (41 per cent) of the 40,310 Aboriginal people being under the age of 25 and about one in four under the age of 15 (Milligan 2010).

Reports of social problems associated with urban Aboriginal youth, include studies of poverty, victimisation, poor health and involvement in gangs and homelessness (Heisz 2006; Heisz and McLeod 2004; La Prairie 1994; Matthew et al. 2007; Public Health Agency of Canada 2006; Smith et al. 2007). Explanations of the association of Aboriginal youth with social problems emphasise the significance of structural factors such as disadvantage in urban living conditions (Fitzgerald and Carrington 2008; Dickson-Gilmore and La Prairie 2005). …

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