Indigenous business owners call on major retailers to pledge more shelf space

Canadian retail sorely lacking in Indigenous representation.

It’s been a tough year for Joella Hogan who is from Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation in the Yukon.

She said sales of her products rely heavily on summer tourism.

“It was really a punch in the gut because I realized how much my business really depends on tourism and the cruise line industry,” said Hogan.

Hogan said with Indigenous businesses across the country struggling to cope with COVID-19, it’s now time for Canadian big brands to lend a hand, and also – lend a shelf.

Along with 20 other Indigenous women business owners and entrepreneurs, Hogan is calling on major retailers to pledge 15 per cent of their shelf space to Indigenous owned businesses.

“Our Indigenous population is not necessarily represented, certainly not in the B.C. retail space, but also in the many industries,” she said. “So how do we encourage and support retailers to make that shift and support small businesses?”

Hogan is part of an online support group for Canadian Indigenous women business owners affected by the pandemic.

She said the group was inspired to start their own pledge after seeing a similar pledge in the U.S. sparked by the death of George Floyd.

“As a result of that, there was a huge momentum to support Black businesses and then eventually Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) business. Through that collective we wanted to be a part of that campaign and raise awareness about the need for retailers to diversify their shelves.”

The group says major Canadian retail is sorely lacking in Indigenous diversification.

According to one media report, out of 1,832 brands Hudson’s Bay Company carries, only one is Indigenous. Other big brands like Holt Renfrew and Shoppers Drug Mart don’t carry any.

Hogan said while you might spot Indigenous products on major retail shelves, they’re oftentimes  made offshore.

“Everybody’s in business to make money, so people are looking for cheaper options, quick options, quicker turnaround, bigger supply, that kind of thing,” she said. “Retailers are selling things that aren’t authentic. I know that term is overused, but it’s appropriate for this case.

“People are selling Indigenous graphics or images on (items) which aren’t appropriate or Indigenous made, so you’re not supporting Indigenous people in communities where you’re retailing those products.”

Hogan said while local shops have been supportive, the majority of major Canadian retailers have been silent.

“Some of them have made statements on them, some of them haven’t, some of them are mute which is pretty disappointing, because we gave them so many opportunities.”

APTN News reached out to a handful of major Canadian retailers to see if they would be interested in joining the pledge.

Only Hudson’s Bay Company returned our request, stating in light of recent events they’ve hired a DVP of diversity and have formed a council within merchandising to focus exclusively on BIPOC brands.

Despite the lack of response, Hogan said it’s not the money – but the message – that makes the pledge worth it for retailers.

“It’s about equity, and it’s about the conversations and relationships, a better understanding of the Indigenous people whose land you live on, whose kids your kids go to school with. There’s so many beautiful things that are coming from Indigenous communities and how can we as Canadians support that so that all people can thrive.”

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