By RYAN THORPE
The Ontario government is investing in seven projects aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty and ending homelessness in indigenous communities across the province.
Chris Ballard, minister of housing and minister responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, announced the investment in Thunder Bay on Jan. 19.
“We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about how to solve poverty and we certainly can’t do it from just our location in Toronto,” said Laura Gallant, a representative of the minister’s office.
“We recognize that we need to work with people who are already leaders in their communities and who are already doing excellent work to support skills development, end homelessness and break the cycle of poverty in many different ways.”
In total, $4.5 million will be allocated to seven innovative and community-driven projects in indigenous communities.
Matawa First Nations Management (MFNM), a tribal council founded in 1988, will be administering one of the seven projects. They successfully applied for more than $1 million in funding for an entrepreneurial workshop program they will be developing in nine communities.
“Our primary market is those who are interested in starting a business for self-employment, who may or may not have a business plan written down, but do have an idea and concept,” said Jason Rasvych of MFNM.
“The next is those who do not have a business plan and aren’t interested at all in doing something in business, but may get ideas from the workshops. Then we’re also targeting those who already have a business in place and are looking for expansion support.”
Through their workshops, MFNM will aim to provide business co-ordination, guidance and facilitation for entrepreneurial projects. They will also be partnering with the Canadian Executive Services Organization in efforts to link entrepreneurs with advisors experienced in their respective sectors. Some of the communities MFNM will be looking to engage are currently suffering 80-90 per cent unemployment, high levels of welfare reliance and economies largely dependent on board-only employment.
The workshops will develop a curriculum that explains business basics, the characteristics necessary to become entrepreneurs, how to develop a sustainable business plan, as well as common challenges business owners face in the first few years of operation, all in a culturally appropriate format.
“It will explain it to them in a way that our First Nations people will have a better chance of understanding,” said Rasvych. “By relating it to some storytelling, relating it to the land, relating it to a way they can understand business better so they get the confidence they need to pursue their projects.
“We’re hoping to decrease unemployment through self-employment. The spinoff is to see those entrepreneurs as role models in the community, to see our First Nations develop a private sector and diversify their economies. Even if it’s just a one-person business, or two to three people, it allows them to take more control of their destiny, so they ultimately are living happier and healthier lives.”
Gallant highlights the mutually beneficial nature of the investment. Not only are strides made in poverty reduction through the projects, but the government also receives important insight into successful poverty reduction strategies which can be utilized in future investments.
“We want to learn and get results back from them,” said Gallant. “That’s a key part of any successful application. They have to make a case to show how they would evaluate the work they’re doing and send that data back to the province. That’s what the province gains out of it, we learn what works and it helps us in our own poverty reduction efforts.”
Rasvych says that MFNM is grateful for the investment and excited for the possibilities the project will open up in their communities.
“We’re really optimistic,” said Rasvych. “But we’re still dealing with barriers regarding access to capital and the Indian Act that we’re trying to overcome. But our communities have always been entrepreneurial, even going back to the original fur trade, it has always been in our communities. So we’re just trying to transition into the modern economy, while also keeping in touch with the traditional way of life.”