Indigenous tech leaders talk progress at #CollisionConf and “long path ahead”

Sheila North, former MKO Grand Chief, Bunibonibee Cree Nation
From left to right: Jeff Ward (Animikii Indigenous Technology), Sheila North (Bunibonibee Cree Nation), and Patrick White (The Globe and Mail) at Collision 2022.
"Our ancestors really set the stage for us.”

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, a number of leaders took to the stages at Collision to talk about the growth in the Indigenous tech ecosystem, reconciliation, and the challenges that remain.

Jacqueline Jennings, venture partner at Raven Indigenous Capital Partners took part in a panel on the Collision mainstage alongside Bobbie Racette, founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus; Sheila North, former MKO Grand Chief Bunibonibee Cree Nation; and Willow Fiddler, news reporter at The Globe and Mail.

Jennings called the main stage panel, focused on how Indigenous innovation is fuelling tech, the first of its kind in the history of Collision, and argued one would be hard-pressed to find another conference to do the same.

The Raven Capital investor and her fellow panellists highlighted the important role Indigenous communities have played in innovation for generations. Racette noted that while Indigenous Peoples have been less represented in the Canadian tech space, Indigenous ancestors have historically been leaders of change.

“Our ancestors really set the stage for us,” Racette said.

Racette represents the first Indigenous women in Canadian tech to close a Series A round after she secured an $8.4 million CAD in March.

For her part, Jennings represents Raven Capital, which is one of few, if not the only Indigenous-led and focused venture funds.

The group highlighted the increased number of Indigenous startups in recent years (such as Virtual Gurus), with Racette noting around 20 Indigenous startups alone in attendance at Collision. They also spoke to the challenges that remain, ranging from limited education resources to a lack of basic necessities on reserves, which can limit Indigenous communities’ ability to even take part in entrepreneurship.

With the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation report specifically calling for corporations to change and review hiring practices, North noted that there is still a long way to go to create equal opportunities. Both North and Animikii Indigenous Technology founder and CEO Jeff Ward called for changes to hiring practices that could be more inclusive of Indigenous Peoples. Examples include extended bereavement care, or allowing for employees to choose their statutory holidays.

Racette also noted the importance of representation and people seeing others that look like them. Her motto, she said is “inspire one and you’ll inspire a nation.”

While all speakers shared a positive outlook, they were also united in emphasizing the need for the broader business and tech community to buy into investing, hiring, and supporting Indigenous Peoples and entrepreneurs.

“We need to keep understanding how we all came to be the way we are as it takes all of us to make a better future for all of us,” said North.

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Senior Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.

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