The growing appetite for potato squash cakes, bannock pizza and other offerings on the Feast Café Bistro menu is going to be met, thanks to federal funding pledged to support businesses run by Indigenous women across the country.
Ottawa has committed $30 million for women entrepreneurs as part of its strategy to empower women and double the number of women-owned companies in Canada by 2025.
About $2.5 million has been specifically set aside for Indigenous-run businesses.
"Amen for that," said Christa Bruneau-Guenther, a chef and owner of the West End restaurant that has made a name for itself serving up dishes rooted in Indigenous traditions.
Feast Café Bistro is one of four local recipients — of the 17 women-run businesses in Manitoba that will receive up to $100,000 to grow their operations — managed by an Indigenous entrepreneur.
"We’re helping women entrepreneurs take their place in the national economy, in Canada’s economy, because they belong there," said Mary Ng, federal minister for small business and export promotion.
Ng said about 16 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada are owned or led by women.
Her directive, she added, is to provide women with money and consulting resources to help them navigate entrepreneurship and grow that percentage.
It’s costly to run a café — let alone a community-driven one that uses locally sourced ingredients, serves takeout in compostable containers and offers an affordable menu, Bruneau-Guenther said. But that’s what she is committed to.
"As an Indigenous business owner, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing I’m filling a landfill with Styrofoam," she said. "I’m making decisions that are costing the company more."
While fresh bison often costs the business as much as three times what beef would, Bruneau-Guenther said her staff is the biggest expense.
"When you’re an Indigenous woman or Indigenous entrepreneur, it’s going to be in your human nature, especially in my industry, to give job opportunities to people in your communities," said Bruneau-Guenther, a member of Peguis First Nation.
"I’m dealing with all the effects of colonization and residential schools and trauma and addiction and the health issues that plague our people."
About 95 per cent of the restaurant’s employees identify as First Nations or Métis. The federal funding means Bruneau-Guenther can hire about five new employees, including kitchen managers to take some of the load off her plate.
Her plate is packed even more than usual while she develops a new business plan with the additional funding. She said she feels support from a human resources professional would make life easier.
In addition to the entrepreneurship funding, the federal strategy is earmarking millions for organizations like SEED Winnipeg that offer entrepreneurs training and consulting ranging from financial planning to website development.
"Women are excited to own businesses. They’re excited, they’re goal-oriented and they’re very much striving for success," said Lisa Forbes, manager of SEED Winnipeg’s Business and Enterprise Support and Training program.
Forbes, who is Cree and Métis, said women entrepreneurs are especially encouraged by hearing other women’s success stories. However, Indigenous women sometimes feel isolated because there are few entrepreneurial role models from First Nations and Métis communities, she said.
That’s why, Forbes said, it’s critical funds and resources specifically target Indigenous women pursuing business ventures.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Updated on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 6:54 AM CDT: Adds photo