Building Businesses Better: Magnolia Perron Clears Paths for Indigenous Entrepreneurship
“I think in the type of work that I've been involved in, especially nonprofit or the social service type of work, it really needs to be Indigenous people leading that work for communities, and I want to see our young people step into those positions,” Magnolia Perron dreams aloud. She is from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation who lives and works on the traditional Algonquin territory in Ottawa, Ontario, a couple hours from her family.
Her family relocated to the Tyendinaga from Toronto when her mom was pregnant with her because they wanted their kids to grow up in their community with their culture. Her father’s family, who she grew up next to, was Mohawk and French Canadian and her mother’s family was Jewish. Perron’s grandmother is her biggest inspiration and role model.
What she found inspiring was her grandmother’s community involvement and the time she spent taking care of the land, between gardening and cleaning up the shoreline. With a grade nine education, she moved to Toronto, worked in factories and did odd jobs until she opened her own hairdressing salon and then a jean shop. Her grandfather opened a business as well that her uncle now runs. Her family’s accomplishments in business led her to work with Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses across Canada.
Her educational path started at the school on her reserve, which she attended until sixth grade. It integrated her culture in the mainstream provincial curriculum, an educational experience she treasures. When her parents separated, she moved off reserve with her mother and went to a different school. After graduation, she went to university in Ottawa and completed an undergraduate degree in Psychology. In the national capital region, she was able to connect with an urban Indigenous center and find community. She needed that so badly.
“One of the things I think I struggled with when I was younger, and I think maybe this is a common experience for a lot of Indigenous youth, is that feeling of belonging, and I think for me would be coming from two different cultural backgrounds and always trying to figure out who do I fit in with? Where do I belong? Who accepts me for who I am?” she recalls.
She was volunteering with a mental wellness group at the community centre she attended when the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was released. As part of the discussions in the group, she realized she hadn’t learned as much as she would have liked about Indigenous history when she was growing up. Perron was inspired to continue learning more and she got to do that at Carleton University where she studied Indigenous policy and administration. She enjoyed learning from Indigenous faculty members and the opportunities she had to connect with the local Indigenous communities.
These days she works with the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, known as NACCA, which is made up of Aboriginal financial institutions who work with Indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs across Canada. They help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses through capital and financing. Perron is working on programming for women and youth to help them increase their access to financing so they can participate in entrepreneurship and business development.
She started there as a summer research student when she was at Carleton University. It was her first exposure to the Indigenous business landscape. “My experience that summer at NACCA got me really interested in business, and thinking about business and entrepreneurship as a way of Indigenous peoples achieving self-determination for ourselves as individuals, but also collectively as communities and nations,” she recalls.
From there, she continued onto a Master's Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria, focusing on entrepreneurship and the economic development side of nation building. After she graduated, NACA recruited her to come back, and she loved it. Primarily working from home, Perron does a lot of project management and program development.
In her role, she spends her days connecting with clients and stakeholders by email and in meetings, but what she loves most is the creativity of program development. She helps members deliver the programming effectively, manages project and program milestones and reports back to funders on their progress.
Her advice for a young person who's interested in project management would be to keep their eyes open for opportunities. “Take advantage of any opportunity that is presented to you if it's going to open more doors,” she advises. Perron credits her success to the way she looked for scholarships, grants and research assistant opportunities to boost her resume.
Before she moved to Victoria, she did extensive outreach within the Indigenous community in the area to find opportunities to collaborate as part of her upcoming graduate studies. Those messages positioned her to get involved with some amazing projects. Not everyone she reached out to had an opportunity, but many referred her to other people. “Generally people do want to help and support you and see you be successful in what you do,” she smiles.
In the future, she wants to succeed by moving into a management role in her organization. Her hopes for Indigenous youth is that they find abundance. “I hope that they feel that there are opportunities out there for them, and that they can take them and can be successful,” she muses. To help make that happen, she’s open to talking to youth who aspire to work in the Indigenous entrepreneurial space and wants them to know her door is open.
Magnolia Perron wants to see Indigenous youth growing into lead in the nonprofit and social services sectors, and she’s working hard to help communities create capacity through business development and entrepreneurship. Inspired by her family and their success, she’s helping clear a path for more Indigenous people to succeed and leading the way in her work every day.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.