Revitalizing the Indigenous economy through technology
Technology plays a key role in the growth and development of any community. Breaking down the established colonial barrier - especially within the tech industry - is a key step in helping Indigenous businesses scale and thrive. It also brings Indigenous People closer to Nation sovereignty.
Lawrence Lewis is the founder of OneFeather. OneFeather is a technology company breaking barriers through innovative banking solutions, modern election and voting services, and by creating jobs within Indigenous communities. As a social scientist, activist, and member of We Wai Kai Nation, Lawrence is redefining our modern experiences through an Indigenous lens. Through Raven’s investment, Lawrence and his team at OneFeather have the opportunity to develop digital technology for Nations that are ready to embrace it. “In 2019, we were primarily a consulting company – doing elections and software solutions on the side,” Lawrence said. Because of Raven, “we’re now a technology company that does consulting on the side.”
The OneFeather App, paired with the PAY card, gives Nation members the ability to manage their money, send e-transfers, and collect OneFeather Token Rewards points – real cash that can be shared between community members. Their app also promotes job creation by giving Indigenous business owners the ability to create a digital space. Customers know that their money is going into the pockets of Indigenous owned businesses when they purchase items through the app. “We envision a place, time, and space where folks who make up our network of Indigenous users and clients across the country become owners of this company,” Lawrence said.
Denis Caringan, a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan, is the President of PLATO (Professional Aboriginal Testing Organization), an organization that trains and employs Indigenous software testers. PLATO’s mission is to address Canada’s technology talent shortage by creating job opportunities for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit living in Canada. Denis is also the President and CEO of Kiya Mâka Consultants Inc., an IT consulting firm that works hand-in-hand with PLATO, and a board member of Imagine Canada, an organization that works to strengthen charities and nonprofits. PLATO has trained more than 150 Indigenous software testers since the organization was founded in 2015 – many of whom still work for the company while living in remote communities. When students finish their training program with PLATO, they are offered a three-month internship, followed by a full-time, salaried position.
“With COVID-19, we’ve found that everyone has to work remotely,” Denis said. “Our selling point is that we can do this work remotely from anywhere in Canada. We have people in northern communities in Saskatchewan working for clients in Calgary, who are implementing projects in southern Manitoba, and working for developers in Lisbon, Portugal. A lot of fantastic things are happening and it gives us an opportunity to show what can be done. I have seen a lot of ideas, and sometimes there is fruit that bears – sometimes not. Usually it’s a function of commitment. Meaningful change and opportunities can come from within our communities, but they don’t have to. It can come from someone who cares and puts forth the effort, and if people can see that the effort is sincere, it can grow wings and become a reality.”
Jeff Ward is the founder and CEO of Animikii, an Indigenous digital agency that builds custom software, designs websites and branding, and specializes in digital communications. A web designer, software developer, author, and speaker, Jeff lives and works on Lekwungen territory. As the only Indigenous Certified B Corporation in Canada, Animikii is driving Indigenous economic growth by operating as a social enterprise and giving back to the community. Raven’s investment has enabled Jeff to develop Niiwin, a “web-based software product that empowers Indigenous Data Sovereignty in ways never seen before.”
“As an Indigenous tech company we're trying to define and exemplify Indigenous technology,” Jeff said. “We were on a growth trajectory and Raven came along and added the rocket fuel to what we were doing. It allowed me, as an entrepreneur and business person, to be more comfortable. They're helping me realize my vision of creating an Indigenous tech ecosystem and I'm happy to be part of their network.”
For Jeff, revitalizing our Indigenous economy means Indigenous Peoples driving their own economic success. “That vehicle, that vessel for economic growth is entrepreneurship,” he said. “The mainstream world is awakening to the fact that Indigenous Peoples are technologists, inventors, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Being recognized by Raven...it’s an amazing feeling.”