Empowering the Journey: Spotlight on Indigenous Transportation Enterprises

In recent years, the spotlight has been increasingly directed towards indigenous-owned enterprises. This comes with good reason as these businesses provide a fresh perspective, innovative solutions and contribute a unique value proposition to their industries. 

With a deep-rooted commitment to community service, cultural preservation, and sustainability, these enterprises serve more than just economic functions. They foster cultural exchanges, drive local engagement, and often champion environmentally friendly practices that set them apart in a competitive marketplace.

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indigenous transportation
Source: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/iskwew-air-launches-qualicum-beach-yvr

Socioeconomic Impact of Indigenous Transportation Enterprises

Many Indigenous companies initiate innovative business strategies that deliver essential services to communities that are frequently overlooked which increases accessibility to vital services and opportunities.

Shared mobility solutions orchestrated by indigenous companies serve a twofold purpose. Economically, they stimulate the local market by creating jobs, promoting local investments, and generating revenues that often get reinvested back into the community. Environmentally, they contribute to reducing carbon footprint, aligning with many indigenous cultures’ respect for the land.

The Challenges Faced by Indigenous Transportation Companies Face

Even though there are obvious benefits, Indigenous companies are still underrepresented in the shared mobility and transportation industry. In the past, these companies have had to overcome various challenges like limited access to funds, systemic obstacles, and the intricate processes involved in business expansion within legal boundaries. Although there are grants and financial aid accessible, obtaining them can be a demanding task due to rigid eligibility requirements and intensive administrative procedures.

Furthermore, entering the shared mobility and transportation sector requires technological expertise, an area where smaller communities may not have access to adequate resources and training programs. While the progress in shared mobility brings potential, it requires significant funding for infrastructure and technology, presenting a substantial hurdle for Indigenous businesses.

Similarly, the geographic remoteness of some Indigenous communities can pose a challenge to the spread of shared mobility services. Many of these communities are situated in distant or rural areas where the sparse population may not ensure the financial sustainability of such services.

Indigenous-Led Success Stories in the Transportation Sector

Despite these obstacles, numerous Indigenous transportation businesses have carved out a niche for themselves in the transportation sector. With a deep-rooted commitment to community service, cultural preservation, and sustainability, these enterprises serve more than just economic functions. They foster cultural exchanges, drive local engagement, and often champion environmentally friendly practices that set them apart in a competitive marketplace.

Let’s shine a light on some of these North American success stories.

Tshiuetin Rail

Tshiuetin means “North Wind” in the Innu language. It is also the name of the first railway line in North America to be owned and operated by a First Nations group. To ensure the long-term economic and social development of their community, since 2005 the First Nations of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, Matimekush Lac-John and Kawawachikamach created Transport Ferroviaire Tshiuetin to operate rail service between Emeril, Labrador and Schefferville, in Quebec. The company’s mission is to provide a safe, reliable (including punctuality) and quality rail service that meets the needs of passengers and customers served and that allows the creation of sustainable jobs for members of the communities.

indigenous businesses
Source: https://www.railwayage.com/news/canadas-tshiuetin-rail-receiving-c55mm-to-modernize/
Iskwew Air

Iskwew is a Cree word for woman.  The name was chosen to celebrate the first Indigenous woman owned airline, all women, and all those lifting women.  It was chosen as an act of reclamation of womanhood, matriarchal leadership, and language. The airline operating out of YVR airport, provides 24-hour charter services to communities around the province of British Columbia and aims to boost accessibility for remote communities across the province, as well as boosting indigenous tourism. They have committed to measuring and offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions and are working towards becoming a Carbon Neutral Company.

Source: https://www.iskwew.ca/aircraft
Two Worlds Transportation

Indigenous-led Two Worlds Transportation is a joint venture between Tsawwassen Shuttles and TRAXX Holdings Inc. The two companies have turned a long standing friendship into a business partnership that provides a diverse and scalable fleet to service Indigenous Communities, businesses and organizations, the tourism sector both provincially and nationally, the provincial and federal government, industrial projects nationwide, and other sectors such as education with Steven Stark (Sləqsit) as President.

“As the owner and CEO of TSI, setting and meeting a high standard of service and delivery is a point of pride for not only me but also each and every member of the team. In the changing world where a spotlight has been shone on local and indigenous businesses, we strive to stand out with our record of integrity and excellence through our 4 Pillars of Operations.”

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Source: https://twoworldstransportation.ca/
Green Raiteros

Huron, California, an agrarian, predominantly Latino community located 50 miles outside of Fresno, has been home to an informal raiteros system for decades. Described as an “indigenous Uber,” a raiteros system is an informal ridesharing service that consists of volunteer drivers, often retired or semi-retired neighbors, who offer rides to people who lack auto or other mobility options. These types of systems are commonly found in large Latino populations. Despite the informality of the raiteros model—it is most similar to an unlicensed taxi service – it fills a critical niche in under-resourced rural markets across the U.S.

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Source: https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-01-10/neglected-california-town-reinvents-itself-with-electric-cars-and-plots-a-roadmap-for-the-nation

Government Grants & Funding for Indigenous Transportation Companies in Canada

Government grants and funding play an instrumental role in bolstering the operations and growth of indigenous companies in the transportation sector. Particularly for those enterprises delving into shared mobility and shared transportation, these financial resources serve as vital lifelines, facilitating the expansion of services and stimulating local economies.

Various governmental bodies recognize the societal and economic importance of indigenous transportation companies. Therefore, they offer funds and grants tailored to support these businesses, enabling them to bridge the infrastructural gaps within and beyond their communities. Here is a list of some of the government funding opportunities available to Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Canada Funds Active Transportation Planning for Indigenous Communities in BC

Today, the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada, announced a federal investment of $198,946 to support four active transportation planning projects for Indigenous communities in British Columbia.

In the Village of Chase and the City of Salmon Arm, funding will enable the completion of three projects which will advance the West Bay Connector Trail plan. The active transportation planning projects will help carry out archeological, and environmental assessments, as well as conduct a site survey, terrain mapping, engineering design, and other design elements.

TELUS Indigenous Communities Fund

The TELUS Indigenous Communities Fund is a grant program that supports Indigenous-led initiatives. This funding supports a variety of projects including health, education, community improvement, language, and culture.

According to TELUS, “grants are available up to $50,000 and are to support Indigenous-led initiatives that support tangible positive outcomes.” Applications opened on May 15 this year and will close on October 13, 2023.

B.C. Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants Program

The B.C. Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants Program offers two grant options for Indigenous governments and local governments, including municipalities, regional districts, Islands Trust, and Indigenous Economic Development corporation where the Nation is the shareholder. Indigenous applicants or partnership applications between Indigenous and local governments may apply anytime.

Indigenous Transportation Initiatives Fund (ITIF)

To continue building a strong transportation network that meets the individual needs of Indigenous communities and organizations across Ontario, the Canadian government is providing up to $584,000 to nine communities/ organizations through this year’s Indigenous Transportation Initiatives Fund (ITIF).

The program provides funding toward transportation-related projects that will support safer roads, economic growth, and keep people and goods moving. Check out the application guide here.

Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund

Beginning in 2021 and over the period of 4 years, the Government of Canada began investing $4.3 billion for the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund (ICIF).

This distinctions-based fund supports the immediate demands, as determined by Indigenous partners for ongoing, new and shovel-ready projects in First Nations, including Indigenous Self-Government and Modern-Treaty partners, Inuit, Métis Nation communities and northern First Nation and northern Métis communities.

First Nations and municipalities all across Canada have access to numerous funding resources — at both the provincial and the national level— when it comes to getting support for their economic development projects. For more First Nation–Municipal Funding Resources, click here.

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