05/31/2016 09:38 EDT | Updated 06/01/2017 05:12 EDT

First Nations Entrepreneurship Is Key To Ending The Cycle Of Hardship

People take part in a march and candlelight vigil in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Chris Wattie / Reuters
People take part in a march and candlelight vigil in the Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, Canada, April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

A lot of people have asked me for my opinion on how we can help support First Nations youth. There are many challenges facing our youth and there is no easy solution. Whether it's an ongoing suicide crisis across North America, a high rate of violence, abuse and poverty or the overrepresentation in the correctional system, these kids are dealing with some serious obstacles. And these continuing challenges demonstrate that though some approaches may have been beneficial, we are nowhere near yet to fully supporting the next generation to break the cycle and prepare for the future.

Many reports over the years have documented the negative impact of various government policies of both the United States and Canada. In Canada, the release of the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) report has recorded in the voices of indigenous people the generation over generation impacts of colonialism and cultural genocide, including a lack of business, education stability options in First Nation communities.

The response of the current Canadian federal government to the TRC has been encouraging, though I, like others, will look closely for actual ongoing solutions and attention other than around election times. I think it's important that there is shared responsibility for keeping kids from falling through the cracks in such small communities. No child should grow up feeling hopeless and left behind.

Entrepreneurship, from my experience, could mean the difference between life and death for these kids. Although I grew up fairly privileged compared to others, I could have easily ended up in prison as many of my childhood friends have. I could have easily committed suicide, been murdered or passed away from addiction as others I knew did, but entrepreneurship saved me.

The resilience that indigenous people possess is a powerful asset for achieving in the business world.

It wasn't easy at all. With no real experience or support I was forced to learn things the hard way. I fell victim to predatory lenders who blocked and worked against me to sell off my first company and I have watched people get rich off my ideas while I got nothing. I have struggled to pay bills and I have failed and made more mistakes than I can count, but having been through the battles, headaches and sleepless nights I have learned more and came out stronger. I became more successful and involved in more businesses than I originally ever could have imagined because I learned from every mistake and kept wanting to do more and build bigger.

I have gone through hell to succeed and it was anything but a smooth road, but, it kept me too busy and motivated to get into trouble for enough years to mature as a person and gave me something to look forward to. Entrepreneurship has opened many doors for me that would have never opened had I not gone through it all and I am now able to share these experiences to help others succeed.

To establish independence and self worth in indigenous communities, it is important to listen to the community and provide support to what they identify, rather than rushing in with what we, with all good intentions, consider are the answers. The resilience that indigenous people possess is a powerful asset for achieving in the business world. There are so many bright, artistic, entrepreneurial-minded individuals in First Nation communities who only need a little help to put their vision into reality. What is missing is the help and encouragement.

There are companies and investors eagerly awaiting the opportunity to do business in First Nation communities (although there are challenges to this) as we have a lot to offer. We have a workforce, resources, land, and in some cases tax advantages, creditor protections and opportunities not easily accessible to others.

There are reservations in North America where people are thriving and serious revenues are being generated and that is because the reservations are home to entrepreneurs who create opportunities for others and inspire others to succeed. These communities are a far cry from the headlines of places like Attawapiskat and other communities with third-world living conditions where we can't seem to even get clean water, and drug dealers and deplorable sex traffickers often appear to be the ones with the most logistic and business experience. Bringing and supporting business experience to Band Councils and First Nation youth is one opportunity to shift the skill base to those who should be in charge.

Supporting entrepreneurship could prove extremely profitable for First Nation communities and create new revenue streams, which is really in the best interest of the community as it uplifts everyone. It is not easy and there is no simple answer but investing in programs, resources, mentorship and tools for future entrepreneurs provides hope and opportunities for self-sufficiency rather than dependence on welfare-based approaches. So leaders of all sorts in First Nations, government and other services have an opportunity to declare if supports for entrepreneurship are a viable option.

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