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Kirkland Lake program offers holistic skills development for Indigenous businesswomen

Investing in Women's Future Program wants to help establish Indigenous, women-owned ventures

A new program for Indigenous women and gender-diverse peoples is coming to Kirkland Lake.

The program is the Investing in Women’s Futures Program (IWF), which recently received government funding to expand on entrepreneurship training programs to improve the economic independence, stability, and well-being of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.

“We are focused on increasing the representation of Indigenous women, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed, within established and emerging sectors and offering opportunities to self-sustaining Indigenous economies,” explained Bertha Cormier, executive director of the Temiskaming Native Women’s Support Group and Keepers of the Circle, which will run the program.

Cormier said the program's goals are to help build pathways for these women to support them through entrepreneurship skills development in order to assist them with establishing their own Indigenous women-owned ventures.

The funding is part of a $6.9-million investment over three years to enhance the program and create more economic opportunities for women.

“We want to better be able to support Indigenous women… to be economically empowered and live safely with a sense of well-being,” Cormier said.

The expansion to Kirkland Lake was created to fill the service gap for Indigenous women and their families. As such they are part of Indigenous hubs, which have grown to house a training centre, family support and cultural programs, daycares, and an Indigenous health team and clinic.

Cormier said there was a need for more support for this population, and why the need to create a second hub in Kirkland Lake.

“Keepers of the Circle is honoured to have become one of the service centres for the Investing in Women’s Futures program and continue supporting the holistic well-being of Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people,” Cormier expressed.

In a media release, Charmaine Williams, the associate minister of women’s social and economic opportunity, said through this new Investing in Women’s Futures program, more survivors of gender-based violence will have access to the employment readiness and wraparound supports they need to increase their participation in the workforce and provide for themselves and their children.

“Our government is empowering women to achieve the success they deserve because when women succeed, Ontario succeeds,” Williams added.

With the funding announcement, Cormier is optimistic no one will be left behind.

“We provide a safe space where Indigenous Peoples, and in particular Indigenous women, can connect or reconnect with their cultural roots and build up confidence in their identity,” Cormier added. “Culture is at the heart of Indigenous identity, health, and well-being.”

She said a strong sense of identity creates the confidence to further personal and professional skills, leading to greater competence.

“We view personal and professional development in a holistic manner to ensure that Indigenous women are supported in all areas of their life in order to improve their economic outcomes,” Cormier added.

Cormier said their skills development programs address the systemic barriers and challenges that Indigenous women face to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency.

“We build capacity for Indigenous women to pursue meaningful careers in their desired sector, with a particular focus on supporting Indigenous women to enter traditionally male-dominated spaces,” Cormier explained.

She said this includes, but is not limited to, fields such as mining, construction, food and agriculture, clean energy, and hospitality.

“The plan is also to build Indigenous women entrepreneurs to achieve financial sovereignty and increase the number of Indigenous women-owned businesses within male-dominated sectors that will provide mentorship and address barriers to entry for other Indigenous women,” Cormier added.

Cormier said Keepers of the Circle has been working for over two decades in the District of Temiskaming to support and empower Indigenous women.

Cormier said thanks to the funding for the IWF program, they will also be able to strengthen their gender-based violence support pathways to ensure that Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people have the tools and resources that adequately meet their needs and expand our training services to promote economic independence and sovereignty.