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In a recent episode of The Finance Cafe, Shannon had the pleasure of interviewing Xina Cowan, Co-director of EntrepreNorth, a Northern-based project focused on supporting indigenous entrepreneurs. Xina shared valuable insights into the work they are doing, the challenges faced by indigenous women entrepreneurs in the North, and the importance of cultural grounding in their approach. 


Culturally Grounded Approach

EntrepreNorth places great importance on being culturally grounded and maintaining strong relationships with the diverse indigenous communities across the North. They collaborate with local change makers, engage program alumni as mentors, and receive guidance from an advisory team primarily composed of Indigenous women. Incorporating cultural practices, such as ceremonies, into their programming is a way of honoring and respecting indigenous traditions.


Holistic Business Model

A key aspect of EntrepreNorth’s approach is the use of a circular holistic business model developed by Ben Scott, one of the founders. This model offers a multidimensional perspective on value creation, business development, and systems thinking. EntrepreNorth encourages program participants to adopt sustainable business practices and aims to shift systems that create harm.


Guiding Values

After years of learning from entrepreneurs and knowledge holders, EntrepreNorth crafted seven guiding values: be gentle to one another, stay rooted in who you are, go deeper to heal and grow, seek alignment in life and business, adopt sustainable business practices, shift harmful systems, and tell stories that inspire a better future. These values guide their organization and are shared with program participants to help shape their businesses.


Barriers Faced by Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs in the North

Operating a business in the North presents unique challenges due to the vast geographical span, small population, harsh climate, high cost of living, infrastructure gaps, and limited economic diversification. Resource extraction and public administration dominate the economy, making it difficult to start and grow businesses that benefit indigenous communities. These challenges are compounded for indigenous women entrepreneurs, who also face systemic barriers related to patriarchy, racism, and intergenerational trauma.


Access to Financial Capital

Access to financial capital remains a significant barrier for indigenous women entrepreneurs in the North. Securing funding and navigating supply chains are particularly challenging due to remote locations, high costs of materials, limited storage space, and other logistical issues. Addressing this barrier is crucial for fostering entrepreneurship and economic empowerment among indigenous women.


Recognizing Wealth Creation and Indigenous Entrepreneurs

Xina emphasizes the significance of recognizing where and how wealth was initially created and the need for investors to acknowledge this historical context. EntrepreNorth advocates for greater empathy and understanding from investors, particularly regarding the challenges faced by Indigenous women entrepreneurs. It is crucial to foster relationships based on Indigenous worldviews and values while unlocking the immense potential within Indigenous communities. 


“If we want to change the racial wealth gaps, investors have to acknowledge and recognize where and how wealth was created in the first place. And there has to be greater empathy from them with the lived experiences of Indigenous women who are trying to start and grow businesses for the benefit of their communities.” – Xina Cowan


Indigenous Women Creating Space

Xina shares the ways Indigenous women are reclaiming their power and place within society. Despite the damage caused by the patriarchy, Indigenous women continue to uplift and support each other, co-creating opportunities for collective well-being and economic growth. Indigenous women-owned and led businesses and organizations play a crucial role in driving economies, innovating solutions, and making the world a better and healthier place. Xina acknowledges the power of community building and networking opportunities that bring Indigenous women together, fostering a sense of collective empowerment.


Financial Literacy and Wellness

Xina dives into the complex relationship between Indigenous women and finance, acknowledging the trauma and systemic barriers they face. Entrepreneurship is viewed as a pathway to economic prosperity and self-sufficiency, but it requires addressing the deep-rooted issues surrounding money. She emphasizes that financial wellness is a recovery journey, one that requires self-compassion and community support. Sharing stories, seeking community, participating in trauma-informed workshops, and learning from established entrepreneurs’ experiences can all contribute to embracing a lifelong relationship with financial literacy and wellness. Xina and Shannon encourage Indigenous women to recognize the positive potential of money as medicine and a tool for positive change within their communities.


EntrepreNorth’s work in uplifting indigenous women entrepreneurs in Northern communities is commendable. By embracing a culturally grounded approach, fostering personal and professional growth, and providing support and resources, they are creating opportunities for prosperity and social change. However, the challenges faced by indigenous women entrepreneurs, including limited access to financial capital, must be addressed to ensure their success. The work of EntrepreNorth serves as an inspiration and a call to action to support and empower women entrepreneurs in the North, and beyond.

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