- Trista Pewapisconias

Saskatchewan’s Newest Chamber of Commerce

Saskatchewan is getting a new Chamber of Commerce. A group of Indigenous business leaders in Saskatchewan have formed this province’s first Indigenous Chamber of Commerce. The Indigenous Chamber of Commerce Saskatchewan (ICCS) is a new start-up organization representing Indigenous business organizations in Saskatchewan.

As a membership driven organization acting as a provincial hub for professionals and businesses, the founders suggest ICCS aims to provide events, an online hub and networking opportunities to its members. The organization will also offer marketing opportunities, an online directory and business information.

According to the 2016 Stats Canada census, the Indigenous population in Saskatchewan accounts for 16.3% of the total population, with 53% of this population residing off-reserve.  Indigenous people continue to have an increased presence in organizations, industries, business leadership and entrepreneurship. The exact number of Indigenous businesses operating in Saskatchewan is difficult to track, as this number tends to fluctuate and there’s no dedicated organization connecting Indigenous businesses.

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The missing link is a comprehensive network of Indigenous businesses, which has left peers, potential customers and organizations who have a desire to partner or work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit businesses wondering where they can easily find a business, people and service provider that is professional and takes diversity seriously. ICCS is looking to be that link.

“This is not a new idea, said ICCS founding board member, Jay Smith. “There have been attempts in the past to create similar groups but ultimately [they] did not have enough traction to completely support the start-up efforts.”

In late 2017, Roger Grona of Firebird Consulting, Jay Smith of BDC, Patrick Dinsdale of RBC, Monica Brunet of Clarence Campeau Development Fund, Kelly Cameron of SaskEnergy and Trista Pewapisconias, now of Co-operatives First, recognized the importance of connecting Indigenous businesses with each other in a marketing, procurement and networking capacity.

“This conversation was happening in the back ground during the last couple years and started to gain traction with other interested people,” said Smith. “It was felt that it is the opportune time to bring together a group of talented and capable people make this idea a reality.”

This initial group discussed the formation of a professional group and reached out for ideas and guidance within personal and professional networks to see if there was interest or need for this type of organization.

“For years there has been an identified need for an Indigenous focussed Chamber in the province,” said Dinsdal. “It was decided in the fall of 2017 that an attempt would again be made to develop this idea. This attempt was begun with the intention of being led by members of the Indigenous community and those who work in the community.”

As the idea was discussed with more people outside of the initial group, more people in the business community have become interested and the result included the creation of the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce of Saskatchewan.

“The ICCS is a collaboration of Leaders in the Indigenous Business Community,” said Dinsdale. “The goal is to create an association for people to interact, learn, and work together to improve businesses in the indigenous community. We work with partners to improve commerce for all Saskatchewan.”

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The Indigenous Chamber of Commerce of Saskatchewan is an incorporated non-profit organization that is governed by 12 board members.  The board decided to be a working board, voted in by membership and committed to working on behalf of ICCS membership. “If you are an Indigenous business owner and/or work in the Indigenous community then ICCS is for you,” said founding board member, Patrick Dinsdale. “We are committed to being open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous members.  For those who are not Indigenous themselves we welcome your participation and appreciate your working as a part of this diverse community.”

Additional board members include Leland Kreklewich of MNP, Ian Bear of IGR, Tonii Lerat of Urban Systems, Brad Darbyshire of STC Industrial, April Roberts-Poitras of Sturgeon Lake Developments and Perry Vermette of Vermette Wood Preservers.

The Chamber is currently developing its website for launch in early summer but is accepting new members.

“Similar minded individuals and groups are invited to join,” said Smith. “This is a space that discusses issues, looks for solutions, and includes developmental opportunities such as networking events, workshop, and other valuable activities.”

The perks of membership for businesses are numerous, but there are also lots of opportunities for personal growth, Smith suggests.

“Joining includes access to the networks and events put on by the Chamber [with] opportunities to join planning and operating committees and become part of the Board of Directors,” said Smith. “If you are looking for experience or are looking to provide your talents to this Chamber, you are invited to join!”

For more information or to join ICCS, contact one of the board members or email IndgChamberCommerceSK@gmail.com.