If you build community, the profit will flow.
That’s the spirit that was honored last week at the 14th annual Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which added entrepreneurs Gregory Koostachin of Attawapiskat, Ontario, and David Tuccaro of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, to the list.
The awards, designed to showcase people who have contributed to economic stability and sustainability in their communities, were held on February 7 and bestowed by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).
“They are community-driven, they are entrepreneurial, and they provide valuable services to their communities,” said Erin Meehan of ESS Support Services Worldwide, a subsidiary of the food-service company Compass Group Canada. ESS co-sponsors the event and helps screen candidates.
In fact, Meehan told Indian Country Today Media Network, the business is almost a byproduct.
“In mainstream business you don’t see the community as the fundamental starting point of the business—there’s a concept, there’s an idea,” Meehan said. In contrast, with aboriginal companies, “the business is almost the secondary part of it, which is why they’re going to be so successful.”
Tuccaro owns a group of companies that supplies the oil sands industry, employing 400–500 people during peak months.
“Fort Chipewyan is an isolated community in northeast Alberta. Traditionally what we did was hunt and fish and trap,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. “And that’s changed now to guys like me owning their own businesses and supplying to the oil sands industry.”
Although much controversy swirls around the Alberta oil sands, especially regarding the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico that is being hotly debated in the U.S., and Enbridge's heavily opposed Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia to the Pacific, Tuccaro said he has merely been adapting to the times.
“Our livelihoods from the past are not there any more—we don’t live off the land as we once did—our hunting grounds are not hunting grounds,” he said.
Koostachin, too, employs hundreds, with about 300 working for him at his companies—M. Koostachin & Sons Ltd. General Store, which supplies the remote reserve on the shores of James Bay in northern Ontario, and MKS Equipment Ltd.,which transports goods from Moosonee to Attawapiskat. He founded the store, his first business, in 1976.
“Gregory, even after retirement, continued to build and expand businesses in his community,” the CCAB said in the statement announcing his selection. “He became well known for finding savings to pass on to his community. Whether through passing bulk purchase savings on to his neighbors at the general store, or through reducing transportation costs on fuel, Gregory was relentless in his pursuit of value for money.”
Each entrepreneur started building companies as young men, the CCAB pointed out.
“Tuccaro and Koostachin both demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit early in life, building on success and ultimately operating several businesses over the course of their careers,” the CCAB said in its statement. “In addition, the inductees demonstrate a commitment to the prosperity of their communities through financial support and volunteerism.”
Aboriginal entrepreneurs are helping grow the economy, with aboriginal businesses representing a $24 billion market, the CCAB said. Video biographies of all 15 hall of fame laureates can be seen at the CCAB site.
Clint Davis, president and CEO of the CCAB, said each winner was distinguished by unique qualities.
“It seems to me that while he probably had some moments of doubt in his life, he had confidence that he was on the right track,” he said of Tuccaro, who also didn’t dither. When the time came to find a mentor, “he recognized that need and found one,” Davis said in a telephone interview with ICTMN.
Koostachin, too, focuses on mentorship, especially in conjunction with education. Davis said that when Koostachin’s third child came and he realized that living off the land wasn’t going to work, he went back to school, then started his business. The entrepreneur saw that one needs education and family support, and he wanted in turn to support his community. Such support is especially needed these days as Attawapiskat battles a severe housing crisis.
"Business success and commitment to community make Dave Tuccaro and Gregory Koostachin exceptional inductees into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame," Davis said in the CCAB statement.
Meehan said that mainstream Canadian business has a lot to learn from the aboriginal outlook.
“They have taught us more about doing business the right way, with integrity, honesty and ethics, than you could ever learn in any textbook in any court, in any program,” Meehan said of the numerous aboriginal companies that ESS works with. “Their complete and total trust in all people should become the basis for how all business operates in Canada.”