Entrepreneurship & Indigenous Allyship

Wed. Oct. 28th – Entrepreneurship & Indigenous Allyship

Colouring It Forward – Diana Frost (Calgary, AB) A powerful dream inspired Diana, who is Algonquin Metis, to begin her social enterprise in 2016: Indigenous and wisdom colouring books, journals, calendars, notebooks, coffee table artbooks, sketchbooks and t-shirts. Working with Indigenous artists and elders from different Nations, she helps them build confidence through new opportunities such as selling online and to the general population. Sales support the artist, elders and provides donations to Indigenous projects linked to education, health and children. In 2019, sales were $220K and her books are in over 70 Staples stores and in 100 retail stores in Canada and the US.

Garden Health – Deanna Henry (Vancouver, BC) Deanna – from the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation and a member of Skeetchestn Band – and her partner, are Indigenous 2 spirited women running their popular health and wellness store in the West End neighbourhood of Davie Village. Deanna bought Garden Health in 2017 when the previous owner decided to retire. Sales have been up since then as they incorporate Indigenous values in their customer outreach. Some of their pandemic adjustments included: an online store, curbside pickup, delivery service and retrofitting the store for customer safety.

4 ways businesses can become better Indigenous allies  

By Ishani Nath


Diana Frost is literally living out her dream.


“I had been searching for many years for how I could help Indigenous people, my people,” says Frost, and in 2016, the answer came to her while she was sleeping. “The dream clearly said that I would make a series of colouring books with Indigenous artists and elders that would help people to reconnect with the beauty of our culture.”


Frost, who is an Algonquin Métis, an engineer as well as an artist and musician, turned her dream into a reality through Colouring It Forward, her business that offers products ranging from calendars and colouring books to clothing, all created with Indigenous art and wisdom.


Canada’s Indigenous population is growing rapidly, and so are the number of incredible Indigenous entrepreneurs bringing innovative new businesses and services to the Canadian marketplace. As leaders work to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, businesses can also take meaningful steps to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities.


One of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)’s 94 calls to action specifically called on Canadian businesses to, for instance, ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training and education opportunities. The TRC also called for businesses to provide education to management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples as well as training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.


And that is just the beginning. To learn more, we asked Frost and Indigenous entrepreneur Deanna Henry, owner of Vancouver-based health and wellness store Garden Health, how businesses can become better Indigenous allies. Here is what they said:  


Create a business with Indigenous values

Garden Health has been locally owned and operated since 1977 and Henry became the owner in 2017. As a Secwepemc, two-spirited woman and a member of Skeetchestn Band, Henry’s goal was to transform the health and wellness store into a business that aligned with Indigenous values — a set of values that can be applied to all business ventures.


So, what does it mean for a business to respect and follow Indigenous values?


“It means to respect people, culture, land, water and all living things. To always value the earth and all humankind,” explains Henry. How everyone can support Indigenous businesses is to start looking at how you treat your community, how you respect people, culture, how you treat the land, water and all living things. This is the best way to support Indigenous businesses.”


Seek out and support Indigenous businesses


Beyond how a company is built and operates, one way to be an Indigenous ally is to support and stock products from Indigenous businesses.


Henry and her partner, Nicole Ogen, who is a Wet’suwet’en woman, were intentional in how they stocked their store, not only based on what products were needed, but also what businesses they wanted to support.   


“Being an Indigenous woman, we will always support women and Indigenous products to stock in the store. We approach that by looking for products that we know our customers would use and appreciate. We also approach that by looking to replace products on our shelf that are not Canadian products, BC products, local Vancouver products, Indigenous products or woman owned,” she says, citing The Yukon Soap Company and Wildcraft Nation as examples.


“In order to get to reconciliation, we need to learn the positives as well as the negative things that have happened,” says Frost. “We need to find that balance and it’s very hard, I think, to find materials that share the beautiful things and the simpler things and that come directly from the elders. That’s why I started doing Colouring It Forward.”


With Colouring It Forward, it was essential for Frost to connect with Indigenous artists and elders. Frost found her first Indigenous artists through Google, and he was able to connect her with more artists and elders.


In addition to purchasing and learning from Indigenous products, such as Colouring It Forward’s 2020-2021 calendar that includes recommended actions to take for reconciliation each month, Frost notes that supporting Indigenous businesses does not always need to be monetary. Online shout outs, cross-posting content can really help entrepreneurs who are just starting out gain more visibility, she says.


Connect with and listen to Indigenous people

If businesses owners want to better serve Indigenous customers, Henry suggests tailoring information to specific communities. “We create info for our own Indigenous communities’ newsletters giving information about specific ailments and how we can help them,” she says.


A large part of understanding those needs comes down to listening. 


As the new owners of Garden Health, Henry and Ogen are learning what it means to be an Indigenous business, a journey that has been informed by speaking with other Indigenous business owners. Through this process, Henry says they’ve thought a lot about who they are, where they’ve come from and finding the space to share their story.


“When people are talking about being better allies for Indigenous businesses, part of it is making space for that story, to hear where that comes from,” says Henry. She adds that by listening to Indigenous people, businesses have the opportunity to learn the true spirit of an Indigenous business, rather than assuming they understand a product.


Give back to Indigenous communities


Colouring It Forward follows a social enterprise business model meaning that giving back is part of how Frost built her business. For Frost, making sure that a portion of the proceeds from all of her products goes towards supporting various Indigenous projects was a non-negotiable. For instance, a portion of the proceeds from Colouring It Forward’s 2018-2019 calendar went towards Indspire, an Indigenous-led charity dedicated to the education of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Frost also sells two different orange t-shirt designs to help raise funds for the Children are our Sacred Bundle conferences, Orange Shirt Day walks and Pokaiks events.


“It’s part of the Indigenous way of taking care of your community, part of that is sharing back,” she explains.