How the Songhees Innovation Centre is helping Indigenous entrepreneurs thrive


WATCH: Calvin To has more on the economic reconciliation taking place on the Songhees Nation and across Western Canada.

Shar Wilson (Wihl Buun) started her clothing company, Fina Wear, with nothing more than a dream, a bank loan and hard work.

Now, she’s hoping the Songhees Innovation Centre will help her grow her business.

The Gitxsan entrepreneur is considering renting space in the new co-working environment geared to Indigenous people.

“As an entrepreneur, you’re pretty isolated in your office,” Wilson said. “So, when you come to a place like this, you’re able to thought-purge, you’re able to bounce ideas off [other people] if they’re willing to listen to you. You’re able to just look at the water and just get out of your space.”

The Songhees Innovation Centre is a joint venture between the Songhees Nation, the South Island Prosperity Project and Animikii Indigenous Technology.

“There really isn’t any other spaces like this in Canada. There have been a few, but in the Victoria area, [it’s the] first of its kind,” said Animikii founder Jeff Ward.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced more than $27 million for projects across western Canada including the Centre, which will receive $93,410.

The other recipients on Vancouver Island are the Tia-o-qui-aht First Nation, which will receive $500,000 to build clean energy infrastructure and the University of Victoria, which will receive $567,000 to deliver the Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs Artist Pilot Program.

?As an artist, I?m excited to see the idea of an ACE for Artists program become a reality,” said Ben Davidson, an Indigenous Artist and ACE program graduate, in an email. “In 2014, when I was taking the ACE program, I had already started my own business. I soon realized that I had done many things the hard way or the wrong way. Through the ACE program, I learned to delegate and build a good team, as well as create multiple revenue streams with my art. It?s a very beneficial course.?

Some say it’s a step towards economic reconciliation.

“Historically, we’ve created a disadvantage for Indigenous people, and it’s through land, through the reserve system,” said Dallas Gislasom, director of economic development for the South Island Prosperity Project. “So, figuring out a way to open up the economy so that all people can participate, I think, is an essential part of reconciliation.”

For Wilson and others like her, the Songhees Innovation Centre will go a long way in helping her work in harmony with her culture.

“We’re a communal people,” Wilson said. “We’re surrounded by community as we’re born and we have our own place in our communities. But those of us who live off of reserve or who’ve moved away from our First Nations, we don’t necessarily have that. We make our way, however, best we can. But a place like this, this will be my community.”

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