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Shining a light on Aboriginal business

Cape Breton University chair promotes the study of aboriginal business in Canada.


Keith Brown would like to encourage more Aboriginal youth to study business at the post-secondary level. Dr. Brown is Cape Breton University’s vice-president, external, and the first to hold the Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies, housed within CBU’s Shannon School of Business.

The chair, which officially launched in 2010, is researching best practices in Aboriginal business with the goal of developing case studies and a text-book focusing on Aboriginal econo-mic development. “If you are Aboriginal, generally speaking you will not see yourself in a business case or a business textbook in any Canadian school,” says Dr. Brown. “You have a significant part of the population and a substantial contributor to the economy that is for all intents and purposes invisible.”

Dr. Brown says that most Canadians who want to open their own business or expand a business need equity. However, if you live on a reserve, land is collectively owned. “The whole premise of equity financing in the country is, in large part, not available on reserves,” he says, “so the fundamentals that you would learn in an introductory course are just not applicable. You have to approach it through a completely different lens.”

Since the chair’s inception, Dr. Brown has conducted three national roundtables with Aboriginal business students from 19 Canadian universities and nine provinces to discuss the barriers they face studying business at university. Among the issues identified were the lack of mentors, lack of a network, lack of funding to attend university, and racism in the classroom.

It is the goal of the chair to remove some of these barriers and make business studies something of interest to Aboriginal youth in Canada. A pilot program for youth mentorship in Nova Scotia is working with students from Grades 9 to 12 to recruit them to the study of business – and not just to CBU, Dr. Brown points out. If someone ends up at one of the big business schools, for instance at the University of British Columbia or University of Toronto, “That’s a success story.”

Another national roundtable of students was scheduled for late October, this time to discuss developing materials for the textbook, which Dr. Brown hopes to see finished by 2014.

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