Q & A with CURA Community Partner: Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training

Interview with Professor Mary Foster, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University on the Miziwe Biik case study.

1. Please provide us with a brief description of your organisation.

Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training was established in 1991 by and for the Aboriginal community in Toronto to address the unique training and employment needs of Aboriginal people. With its staff of 15, it offers programs and services to the Aboriginal community including career and employment counselling, community project training, skills development training, employment and training placement and an employment resource centre, where clients can access computers, the Internet, fax machines, as well as other employment-related resources. There are approximately 1000 client visits per month, and this number includes multiple visits from the same client.

In 2004 the Miziwe Biik Development Corporation was created to facilitate the economic advancement of the Aboriginal community within the GTA. This led to the 2007 establishment of the Aboriginal Business Resource Centre (ABRC) to provide entrepreneurs access to business training and skills development as well as microloans. The centre has about 75 clients per year, who come through a referral from Miziwe Biik’s employment and training services and programs, through the small business course, from Aboriginal Business Canada and other Aboriginal organizations in the GTA.

2. What model are you using for the research?

The research design was qualitative and included content analysis of existing reports and records, in-depth interviews with clients and staff of Miziwe Biik, in-depth interviews with management at Aboriginal Business Canada (ABC), in-depth interviews with the loan committee of the micro-credit program, in-depth interviews with the leading members of the GTA Aboriginal community, and a focus group with participants in the self-employment training program.

Although much research has been conducted on Aboriginal communities in Canada, few have incorporated Aboriginal methodologies, analysis or interpretation. In order to make this research more meaningful, the team used research techniques and instruments that respected the practices, histories and experiences of the Aboriginal community. First, we structured the project as a meaningful partnership between the Aboriginal community as represented by Miziwe Biik and the university. Next, we consulted Cat Kriger, an Aboriginal Elder seeking insight into traditional teachings, practices and Aboriginal ways of looking at the world. His guidance, as well as recent scholarship, led us to the concept of the Medicine Wheel as a foundational Aboriginal frame of reference and structure. The Medicine Wheel is a vessel that holds many traditional teachings, both ancient and contemporary; a lens through which life experiences are understood; and represents the foundational teachings that guide daily life. While the presentation of the Medicine Wheel can differ among Aboriginal cultures and between Elders, its general structure evokes the cyclical nature of the world, such as the cycles of day/night, the seasons, and life. It is also a reminder of the interconnectedness of all things, natural and constructed, such as the land, the people, and the four parts of the self.

3. Where are you in the research process?

In total twelve in-depth interviews and one focus group were completed and the case study report has been written.

4. How do you see the larger social economy benefiting from the research?

This research underlined the importance of evaluating the impact of social economy ventures not just in terms of economic indicators, but also social indicators. One of the most significant results of the Miziwe Biik microloan program was not the financial success of the entrepreneurs who started and maintained a business, but the intra-community connections that were made and the pride in Aboriginal culture that was rekindled for those participating in the program.