The Original Entrepreneurs: Métis Business in Saskatchewan

To learn about the Métis people and their nation is to learn an important part of the origins of Saskatchewan. The Métis emerged as a distinct people over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, prior to Canada
becoming a formal nation state.1 The gradual establishment of distinct Métis communities outside of First Nations and European cultures and settlements, and marriages between Métis women and Métis men, began the establishment of this new Indigenous people.2

The traditional Métis homeland includes the three prairie provinces, but extends into Ontario, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and the northern United States. From their shared history and culture to their unique language–Michif, the Métis represent a unique group of people in Canada.3

It could be argued that in Canada, the national perception of the Métis is too often linked to Louis Riel and the Riel Rebellion. Though an important Canadian historical figure and a watershed moment in Canadian history, the Métis nation is far more interesting and diverse. For instance, the prairies have so long been accessed from the east via the TransCanada highway and then prior to that, the railroads. It is easy for modern Canadians to forget that this region was near impossible to access, except through northern waterways.

Many years prior to Confederation, there was trade and systems of economics developing that progressed into cultural and societal development and at the heart of it were the Métis.

Today, the Métis nation is as strong as ever. One key economic development organization is the Clarence Campeau Development Fund (CCDF). For nearly 25 years now, CCDF has been providing financial assistance to Métis clients, funding unsecured loans, and helping Métis entrepreneurs and communities leverage funding from other financial institutions.

CCDF is the only Métis economic development organization of its kind in Saskatchewan and one of only a handful in Canada, making it unique. “We’re the first stop for Métis entrepreneurs looking for innovative financing solutions and skills development. We actually help entrepreneurs from start to finish. With business planning we can connect them to a consultant to help develop their business plan, connect them to GDI [Gabriel Dumont Institute] to do their Pathways for Entrepreneurship or to get them training. We do the financing piece and then when their business is up and running, we can provide them with management and marketing skills training,”
says Pam Larsen, Clarence Campeau Development Fund CEO. This assistance can be anything from bookkeeping courses to marketing courses as well as all manner of business support.

Since its inception in 1997, CCDF has invested over $81 million in Métis entrepreneurs and communities. In 2014 they conducted a socio-economic study that showed that every dollar they invested was creating $15.21 in socio-economic benefit. This puts CCDF’s investment creation at over $1.2 billion dollars in socio-economic benefits alone. The organization has also been responsible for creating over 3,700 jobs. Furthermore, 36 per cent of the businesses they have supported have been led by Métis women.

“Métis people represent the largest proportion of self-employed people in Canada and our diverse programs and investments help stimulate the economy and have a large impact on both Saskatchewan’s GDP and employment numbers,” says Larsen. “Our delinquency is only at one per cent on an $18 million dollar portfolio. So, it goes to show that Métis people are resilient and adaptable. They create jobs and they create wealth.”

Nick Daigneault is the mayor of Beauval, a Métis community in northern Saskatchewan. He highlights the developments his community has gone through because of accessing business programming and capital. In 2012 when he first started into politics as a town councillor, he was part of the first business acquisition for the village of Beauval—a water-bottling plant. Their ambitions continued to grow and they hired a CEO and actively looked for
more businesses to acquire or start up. In 2016, when Daigneault became mayor, they finished building their first commercial building, the BDI Centre. More operations followed with a food preparation service and the purchase of a confectionary. Now with economic development beginning to snowball in the community, they’re started to look at much larger operations.

“It’s getting quite exciting and having Métis organizations such as Clarence Campeau and Sask Métis Economic Development Corporation (SMEDCO) in our corner has been very instrumental and very helpful,” says Daigneault. Several years ago, they participated in the Métis Community Capacity Development Program which was paramount in getting a lot of the community’s acquisitions over the last few years. They have been able to hire and train more people and attract more management talent as well as mentor talent right from the community.

One of the greatest achievements of the work is that the ongoing developments have piqued the interest of young people in the community who are now seeing growing opportunities in entrepreneurial endeavors. When Daigneault was a kid growing up in the 90s, this was not the situation in the community.

“At almost every economic development forum that I go to, I tell people how Métis are trailing so far behind right now, it’s almost a little embarrassing. First Nations are leaps and bounds ahead with their infrastructure funds and economic development pools of money. We’re only starting to see money flow to the Métis governance structures just as of late—which we’re very grateful to see these economic development programs—but I feel like
we’re coming to the economic feeding grounds a little too late. So, we need to make a huge stride for economic development in our region and to really grasp onto existing opportunities,” says Daigneault.

Daigneault knows there is great opportunities in these northern communities and places like Beauval are a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that can grow if there is some assistance. More financing and more programming need to find its way into these communities and there is a responsibility on the part of the federal government to make this happen.

1,2,3Who Are the Métis, Metis Nation Saskatchewan, https://metisnationsk.com/about-metis/

Welcome Aboard – New Opportunities Abound at Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation