Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Indigenous Communities and Social Enterprise in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Indigenous Communities and Social Enterprise in Canada

Article excerpt


Indigenous communities in Canada include First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities. Social enterprise in Indigenous1 communities in Canada is shaped by population and geographic distribution, history of colonization, and local and global economic factors. The Indigenous population of Canada consists of 4.3 percent of the total population and, according to the most recent national census, is the fastest growing population group in Canada (Turner, Crompton, & Langlois, 2011). There are more than 600 Indigenous communities spread geographically across the country, each with unique relationships to three components: the land; municipal, provincial, and federal governments; and non-Indigenous communities. Some communities exist across provincial and international boundaries, having relationships with multiple state and national governments. Many Indigenous communities dispute jurisdiction over traditional land by all three levels of government and, therefore, can often have an oppositional relationship with those governments. The diversity of Indigenous communities has led to the formation of a wide range of social enterprise interactions; this has substantially influenced the development of social enterprise and the broader social economy across Canada.

The Indigenous social economy in Canada plays a significant role in local economies. It includes multi-tiered cooperatives such as Arctic Cooperatives Limited (ACL) (Quarter, Mook, & Armstrong, 2009); community-owned organizations such as the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (Anderson, Dana, & Dana, 2006); the corporate division of the Membertou Band (Johnstone, 2008); and numerous forms of Indigenous-based social-purpose businesses (Quarter, Mook, & Armstrong, 2009). The leadership of social enterprise intersecting with Indigenous communities can take different forms. A number of social enterprises, which were started by non-Indigenous individuals, are now led by Indigenous individuals, such as ACL. Indigenous community members have also started and continue to manage a broad range of social enterprises throughout Canada. At the same time, there is a significant proportion of social enterprise in Canada that serves Indigenous populations but that is not led or managed by Indigenous individuals.

Although there is a substantial volume of research on Indigenous populations, the relationship between Indigenous communities and social enterprise within the broader social economy is an under-researched area (Wuttunee, 2009). The purpose of this article is to contribute to this nascent body of research.

Indigenous population and geographic distribution

The geographical distribution of Indigenous communities in Canada is relevant to the understanding of Indigenous social enterprise. Although the province of Ontario has the highest Indigenous population in absolute numbers, the Indigenous population forms only 2 percent of Ontario's total population. Indigenous populations form a higher percentage of the territories of Nunavut (86%), Northwest Territories (52%), and the Yukon (23%), as listed in Table 1 (Turner, Crompton, & Langlois Canada, 2011).

The variety of Indigenous people's experiences with colonization has deeply affected the subsequent development of Indigenous social enterprise throughout Canada. This development has been different for each province and territory. In southern First Nations communities, European farmer-based cooperatives were utilized as a tool of colonization by solidifying European settlement over traditional First Nations land, simultaneously excluding First Nations people from involvement in these cooperatives. As described by Fairbairn (2004), initial cooperative development in Canada and all of North America was not inclusive of, or intended for, the benefit of Indigenous communities. In contrast, cooperatives in northern Inuit communities were not established as bottom-up European settler-based organizations, but were top-down, government- initiated structures utilized for creating dependent classes and effectively limiting the movement of traditionally nomadic communities (Mitchell, 1996). …

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