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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Home businesses and social housing

BY Will Nicholls Feb 26, 2024

Late night calls are something we expect here at the Nation, and recently, we received one about home businesses in social housing not being allowed. Besides being surprised by the news, we felt there was something wrong about this decision.

In Mistissini, Adels Restaurant would never have happened without the late Charlie Brian turning his home into a restaurant. There are others in Mistissini and other Cree communities who made their starts in this manner. A practice that is almost a Cree tradition that is now not allowed, and we all have to wonder why? Is it that the haves don’t like the idea of the have-nots joining their ranks? Is it that the Cree leadership doesn’t think that home businesses are part of the economic engines they envision for Eeyou Istchee? Or are there some other reasons we are not privy to?

Afterall permitting home businesses could contribute in a significant way to help some social housing households achieve self-sufficiency.

Have people forgotten that community development is mostly about individuals taking control of their future. It is also about fostering a sense of well-being for oneself and their community. In a world today with global changes and uncertain economic fortunes, is it not important for people to find ways to help themselves without relying heavily on others. A home business is one way to make this happen.

Home businesses can be integral parts of strategies for commercial development, tourism, natural resource development, and new business initiatives. Home businesses serve as an incubator for new businesses and as a training ground for first-time entrepreneurs. It is within the home that they can experiment, try out new ideas, test new markets, and make sacrifices and choices that are not costly because of the low overhead costs associated with working at home. 

It is also important to recognize that a significant number of home businesses are temporary. Some outgrow the space at home and move to a larger location, either renting or building a space for themselves and the business they created.

Of course, not all of them are successful. Home businesses close as the owner finds the business was not as successful as planned, new family or business opportunities emerge, or another direction is taken. But the debts incurred are minimal compared to having to take on the higher costs associated with starting outside the home.

Communities with a strong small business and entrepreneurship base tend to have decent retail facilities, a higher level of home ownership, less evidence of physical deterioration, better sanitation standards, and higher expenditures on education, recreation and religious activities.

As it stands now stopping home businesses gives little economic opportunity to those with financial problems and who may live in poverty. Also how far does this law or rule reach? What about those people who make beaded earrings, moccasins, moosehide mittens, crooked knives and other traditional items? They make them at home, and this is in legal terms a business. 

What about the Buy, Sell, Trade meals offered over the internet? That is also a business as far the law is concerned. In Chisasibi, there are people who have convenience stores in their basements. Is the law different there or does the band council just turn a blind eye?

What about the bands who have problem collecting rent or mortgage payments, a home business could help with this?

In short, stopping home businesses in social housing is simply shortsighted and wrong in any Cree community. In most Cree communities all that is needed is 30 signatures to call a special community general assembly to address matters residents feel must be talked about and acted upon.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.