The Weight of Indigenous Business
Last weekend, our community held our annual pow wow and I was able to take the entire Saturday off and go hang out with my parents. I don’t get to go home to the rez as often as I would like but it makes me treasure, even more, the times when I get to just sit with my mom and dad, laugh with my sisters, enjoy my nieces and nephews, and gather the best hugs from community members.
For me, there is no greater feeling than sitting amongst the people who know me best, who have seen me grow and who have been with me every step of the way. There is no greater feeling than being lifted up and supported by my community. But it didn’t always feel like this to me. In fact, this trip made me think back to when I used to be scared to “mess up”.
When I first moved to the city from my reserve, I thought that when we left our communities for school, work or whatever, that we carried the weight of our communities on our backs when we entered these new spaces. It was the pressure of thinking I had to represent without failure.
Now I know there is a weight but it's not exactly what I thought it was. Part of what I felt as my community's weight before was actually the weight of judgment, not from the whole community, but from hurt individuals lashing out. I now understand that pressure as the weight of judgment from people dealing with intergenerational trauma and people who may feel threatened by other community members who decide to try to do things differently.
What I felt in these cases was actually a fear of lateral violence. Hurt people waiting for me to make a mistake so that they don’t need to feel threatened. I have accepted that this weight is not mine to carry. And actually, there is a weight that is mine to carry. But it’s a different weight. It's the weight of the responsibility to be a changemaker, and to carry the torch for my community and the greater Indigenous community.
My generation is the first in my community to not attend residential school; the last one closed in 1996. Everything we do or don’t do now shapes what will come for the next generation. What I feel is the weight of elders looking to me to carry that responsibility. But that responsibility also comes with the love, support, prayers, and their belief in my ability to make change. And it’s a weight I don’t carry alone; it’s not just me who feels this pressure. This weight of responsibility is carried by all of our suppliers too.
Since the beginning, when we onboarded new suppliers, I knew that meeting face to face over “virtual tea” was essential. I needed to know who we were buying from and they needed to know who I was and what my intentions were. To this day, in these meetings I hear the same themes over and over. Every single Indigenous entrepreneur I’ve met believes that it is their responsibility to make space and to create a better future for the next generations.
Indigenous Peoples in Canada have not had the opportunity to build intergenerational wealth. We didn't grow up with parents, aunties, or uncles who ran businesses. Many of us grew up in poverty (the money kind), and as we learn the ropes of doing business and working with money, everything is brand new.
So I ask you to remember this when you buy from Indigenous businesses. Understand what their efforts mean, and what your support means. Because despite these challenges, Indigenous entrepreneurs are showing up day in and day out, putting in the work to lay the foundation for a new reality. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that our children will inherit a world where they can thrive.
By Mallory with Kham Yawnghwe