Supporting Inuit Women’s Businesses

Inuit women are eager to participate in and benefit from economic development in the North, including any opportunities related to supplying the mining sector with goods and services. This brief report outlines some of the strengths and challenges that Inuit businesswomen face and the ways that economic and business development officers, mining companies, Inuit organizations, and federal, provincial and territorial governments can support them.

Inuit Cultural Traits and Values that Support Entrepreneurialism

Inuit businesswomen bring many strengths to business, derived from their culture and gender. Inuit women are used to working hard for their families and communities. Inuit culture has a long history of producing “self starters” – women and men who have adapted to changing circumstances and found ways to survive and thrive in a challenging environment. Inuit culture values problem solving, determination and risk taking within a “safe” framework. For example, nobody goes out on the land without assessing the conditions, weather and the health and capabilities of the hunting or harvesting group. Inuit have relied on each other’s strengths and have worked together to provide for their families and communities. Inuit bring the same cultural strengths to current business practices that they have for many generations of living off the Arctic land, trading with other cultures and supporting and ensuring the survival of European newcomers.

An Inuk businesswoman, Rhoda Cunningham, has identified Inuit principles that apply to business and entrepreneurship, including respecting others and forming relationships, being open, welcoming and inclusive, serving and providing for family and community, working together for a common cause and being innovative and resourceful.[1]

Strengths and Challenges Facing Inuit Businesswomen

Inuit women also bring strengths and a unique perspective to business, based on their role in Inuit society and their generations-long experience in caring for their families in the Arctic environment. For example, Inuit women bring relationship-building and team-oriented skills, commitment to doing well, patience, flexibility, adaptability and the ability to manage multiple priorities and demands to business endeavors.

Women are good at relationships… and business is all about relationships.

Hilda Broomfield-Letemplier, President
Pressure Pipe Steel Fabrication Ltd.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador

However, Inuit women business owners face some unique challenges that businesses and governments can help with. Inuit women can face discrimination both as Inuit and as women, especially if they are participating in non-traditional sectors like mining. Women often have additional responsibilities within the immediate and extended family compared to men. They also may lack some of the skills needed for business start-ups, while they excel in others.

Other challenges facing Inuit businesswomen, identified by Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, include housing policies that prohibit the operation of small businesses, the high costs of starting and operating businesses in the North, equity requirements for loans, small markets in remote communities, competition for qualified employees, lack of flexible daycare, language barriers and gaps in literacy skills and a lack of access to peer support and business mentors.[2]       

Supporting Inuit Women’s Businesses in the Mining Sector

Inuit Economic Development and Business Development Officers

Economic development officers (EDOs) may be the first point of contact for Inuit women exploring mining-related and other business opportunities. Through community and regional economic development centres, EDOs provide support to Inuit through all stages of a business, from research and pre-start-up to start-up and expansion. They offer business training, guidance and advice to plan, establish, manage and expand a business, as well as provide financial support through grants and loans.

Similarly, business development centres support the creation and growth of small businesses by providing loans and business advice. Their services are available for start-ups and existing businesses and include business counselling, technical support and help with strategic planning and management (see for more information).

Some ways that these centres can better serve Inuit women are:

  • Learn more about barriers Inuit women face in developing a business and supplying mining companies and other economic sectors.
  • Work with Inuit women to apply a gender lens to programs and services to ensure that women’s business development needs are being actively addressed and that barriers to women are reduced.
  • Be able to connect Inuit businesswomen and entrepreneurs with each other and with organizations and individuals that can provide information and encouragement.
  • Keep up-to-date on business development funds and financing options for micro-businesses and small start-ups (most Inuit women’s businesses will be small enterprises, at least at the beginning).
  • Create opportunities for representatives from mining companies to meet face-to-face or virtually with Inuit women business owners.

Community Relations Divisions – Mining Companies

Early, intentional engagement between mining companies, Inuit organizations and communities is considered essential to productive relationships and agreements for mining exploration, development and operation. Community relations divisions and staff also can play an important ongoing role in supporting sustainable community development and maximizing the benefits of mining operations for local communities and regions. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business advocates for voluntary corporate community investments of money, time, expertise or other in-kind supports to Aboriginal organizations and communities, including support for community economic development. It also notes that in northern and remote communities in particular, community investment initiatives must reflect a broad understanding of the impacts of development, both positive and negative. Companies may support business start-ups, help establish networks and business associations and participate in mentorship programs.[3] All of these initiatives would be helpful to Inuit women entrepreneurs, especially if programs are targeted to their needs.

Other concrete ways that community relations divisions can support Inuit businesswomen include:

  • Providing information to Inuit women’s and community organizations on the stages of mining development and the need for goods and services at each stage;
  • Acting as “brokers” to make introductions and facilitate relationships between Inuit businesswomen and mining company decision-makers;
  • Sharing information and knowledge about the company’s supplier needs, supplier arrangements and procurement methods; and
  • Initiating partnerships with Inuit organizations to increase the capacity among northern businesses to fill supply contracts and bid on tenders.

Two guides that might provide additional advice are: Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook: A Practical and Principled Approach for Mineral Explorers and Working Together: It Can Be Done, a Check-list to Assist Mineral Companies Active in Areas Near Aboriginal Communities (see For More Information below).

Procurement Divisions – Mining Companies

Corporations can take proactive measures to ensure Inuit women’s businesses have access to procurement and supplier opportunities. Supplier diversity is the strategic business process where corporations reach out to groups not traditionally included in their supply chains, including women-owned businesses that want to compete for contracts. It means implementing processes to identify, assess and match under-represented suppliers to procurement opportunities and then measuring achievements. According to the Newfoundland & Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs, diverse supply chains drive value and innovation by increasing the number of suppliers in the marketplace and thereby driving down costs. [4]

Corporations can create a competitive edge by sourcing a dynamic network of growth-oriented women business owners, many with products and services that can fill unexploited needs in the oil and gas industry.

Newfoundland & Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs website

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, through its Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) certification program, suggests these best practices in procurement:

  • Implementing preferred procurement practices, such as set-asides and restricted tendering specific to Aboriginal businesses;
  • Creating an Aboriginal supplier database to identify businesses offering required goods and services and placing them on vendor distribution and advance notification lists;
  • Promoting publicly tendered requests for proposals (RFPs) and openness to relationship building at tradeshows, on the web and through other media;
  • Requiring mainstream suppliers to establish business-to-business (B2B) relationships with Aboriginal businesses as a part of the supply chain; and
  • Having a specialized Aboriginal Procurement Coordinator to assist Aboriginal contractors/suppliers in understanding the company’s work processes and structures and assisting them to explore new business opportunities.[5]

The Mutual Benefits of Mining Company–Aboriginal Business Partnerships

IBAs [Impact and Benefit Agreements] provide opportunities for mining companies to source goods and services from the local community, giving its entrepreneurs the chance to create or expand their businesses. By sourcing goods and services through the community, the mining companies are helping to build up local capacity and potentially create sustainable businesses that can continue to exist once the mine is closed. As a result, funds flow back into the community and contribute to its ongoing development. Joint ventures between companies and local businesses can be mutually beneficial, as companies save on the cost of importing materials or goods, and directly contribute to the growth and prosperity of the region.

Conference Board of Canada, The Future of Mining in Canada’s North, 2013, p. 50

Regional Inuit Organizations

Regional Inuit organizations can support Inuit businesswomen in a number of ways, in addition to their role in overseeing economic development and operating business development centres. Inuit organizations need to explore and understand the specific needs and aspirations of Inuit businesswomen and entrepreneurs in northern economic development and include these perspectives in the agreements that will guide Inuit relations and benefit sharing with mining companies throughout the mining cycle. This role begins before the negotiation of specific Letters of Intent (LOIs), Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), Impact and Benefits Agreements (IBAs) and Participation Agreements with mining companies operating in the region. The agreements themselves will guide future economic development and business opportunities, social, cultural and community support programs and other community capacity development initiatives that have a direct impact on Inuit women.

Other suggestions for activities and initiatives include:

  • Ensuring that women business owners and leaders are included on planning committees and working groups and that their perspectives are demonstrated in regional economic development plans;
  • Widely sharing information on mining development and economic opportunities, using a variety of media and methods to reach a broad audience;
  • Encouraging high schools and colleges to develop business-oriented curricula and courses that are inclusive of and relevant to girls;
  • Promoting business ownership as a career option for Inuit girls and young women;
  • Proactively promoting existing women-owned businesses and supporting their participation in trade fairs and mining industry events; and
  • Allocating specific funds for development and support of Inuit women’s businesses.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments

Governments have put in place a number of means to support economic development in northern communities, as well as to encourage growth in Aboriginal-run businesses. More could be done, however, to address the specific needs of Inuit women business owners and entrepreneurs.

The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board recommends that governments should support First Nations, Inuit and Métis economic participation in the resource economy by:

  1. Connecting Aboriginal communities to industry;
  2. Strengthening the framework for collaboration between Aboriginal organizations and the private sector; and
  3. Developing human capital through education and training programs (including business development and management skills).
  4. Promoting information sharing and awareness.[6]

These broad measures would help to increase the participation of Inuit women’s businesses in the northern economy, especially if they are implemented using a gender-specific lens. For example, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador requires proponents of large natural resource projects to develop Gender Equity and Diversity Plans (GEDP) as a condition of release from environmental assessment processes. Starting with the signing of the Hebron Project’s GEDP in 2011, business access strategies are now required in all GEDPs. Subcontractors to these projects may also be required to comply with these conditions.

Other measures that governments should continue to offer and/or further develop include:

  • Addressing the needs of northern micro-businesses (more likely to be operated by Inuit women), in addition to small and medium-sized enterprises;
  • Making information on northern economic opportunities, mining development, mining company-Inuit agreements and grants and loans for businesses more easily accessible and understandable;
  • Demystifying mining supplier, supply chain and procurement processes;
  • Improving access (preferably through “human” contact in addition to web-based) to business development and support services geared specifically to small northern and women-led businesses;
  • Supporting Inuit women’s entrepreneurial networks, peer mentorship programs and opportunities to meet and share knowledge;
  • Encouraging and providing incentives for financial institutions to support Inuit women entrepreneurs and business start-ups; and
  • Promoting success stories and best practices in mining industry engagement with Inuit women’s businesses.

For More Information


Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association

Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

Canadian Northern Development Agency

Northern and Aboriginal Policy, Conference Board of Canada

Women in Mining Canada

Women’s Business Enterprises


Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook: A Practical and Principled Approach for Mineral Explorers, Association of Mineral Exploration British Columbia, no date.

Building Relationships, Sharing Knowledge: Best Practices in the Progressive Aboriginal Relations Program (PAR), Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, no date.

Increasing Aboriginal Participation in Major Resource Projects, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, 2012.

The Future of Mining in Canada’s North, Conference Board of Canada, 2013.

Good Practice Guide: Indigenous Peoples and Mining (guidance document 2010-3), International Council on Mining & Metals, 2010.

Working Together: It Can Be Done, a Check-list to Assist Mineral Companies Active in Areas Near Aboriginal Communities, by the Sub-Committee of the Inter-Governmental Working Group, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, no date.

[1] Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Practices in Entrepreneurship, Rhoda Cunningham, University of Prince Edward Island, 2013,

[2]   Building an Inuit Women in Business Network: Needs Assessment Report, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2011.

[3] Building Relationships, Sharing Knowledge: Best Practices in the Progressive Aboriginal Relations Program (PAR), Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, no date –

[4] For Corporations, Newfoundland & Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs, no date,

[5] Building Relationships, Sharing Knowledge: Best Practices in the Progressive Aboriginal Relations Program (PAR), Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, no date –

[6]   Increasing Aboriginal Participation in Major Resource Projects, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, 2012,