This blog was first published in Dutch on Smart WP

Indigenous communities have long been marginalised and their culture and heritage trivialised, misunderstood, underrepresented and misrepresented. So much so that even in rural areas with a larger population of Indigenous communities, they still don’t have the services, facilities or support systems that take into consideration who they are as a people. For Tara Everett, an Anishinaabe Indigenous Business Community Collaborator and Founding President of Canoe Coworking Inc. in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, this was a constant problem and the alternatives were limited-to-none. Tara’s experiences and insight shows us a new perspective on reboarding: how the pandemic has helped as well as harmed and what problems in our society were solvable if only we had seen them. The pandemic has shown us the challenges that were  already there — and in many ways forced us to think differently and take meaningful action which can illuminate a path to a better future if we embrace all voices.

The need for community spaces and the influence of Covid-19

“We’re based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada which has the highest urban Indigenous population out of a major city centre in all of Canada. And so, as an Indigenous person,” states Everett, “I see my population reflected quite regularly in my study and the work that we do, and the opportunities provided. When I became interested in pursuing my own business, I found that not only was there no resources, but there also wasn’t a support network, or a cohesive vision for how to support Indigenous populations as respectfully as they needed to be. The Indigenous population here in Canada are very much treated as a separate silo of the nation, which we’re only now coming out of. This was literally a dark age for us, because most of our communities had no internet or running water, especially in really remote communities.”

“So, they were never really given the capacity to be involved in the digital economy. Now, due to the pandemic, we have a lot of people, regardless of where they live, participating in the digital economies and becoming self-sufficient. They’re realizing that there’s a lot more opportunities out there than they initially believed. There’s this thirst for a community and a mentorship and a networking place for these people to connect, because there was never that capacity for them to do that before. And that’s really what I’m trying to fill, I’m trying to help create as a safe space for them to come and reboard in a way that makes sense to them and where they can share those cultural nuances that a general space or a general community wouldn’t necessarily have the sensitivity to notice or pick up on. That was actually one of the reasons Canoe Coworking started as a physical manifestation as a space.”

From Physical to Digital Coworking space

Most coworking spaces are based on the rental arbitrage model: it is about the space and it can’t be about anything but the space. For Jeannine van der Linden, CEO PayPugs BV, Director European Coworking Assembly and Founder of De Kamer, rental arbitrage is a dead letter model even before the pandemic and especially because of the pandemic. “Because,” she says, “we have the unprecedented opportunity to choose what we go back to. We literally decide what we bring with us going forward. Obviously, there are some workplaces where you need to physically be there to do your job. But they’re also those that can decide how much of their workforce are coming back to physical spaces, or are they given a choice to go out and find a community of their own that works better for their work style. Is it a coworking space? Is it your home office? What is being done to support these choices? With the rental arbitrage model, we need to get them back in, because that’s how we make our money. And that’s not a sustainable, healthy model for everybody.”

“I felt really strongly in the beginning that a physical model was king for my community, this was pre-pandemic,” says Everett, “as there’s a huge gap in not only accessible, accessibility to online (so to the internet as a whole), but also to devices that can access the internet, along with whole host of other little nuances that I had to think of. I therefore decided to start in Winnipeg(my hometown), because it’s largely considered the kind of the heartland and where Turtle Island or North America was born in my particular culture. So, we had this keystone space, and then the pandemic hit. It suddenly became much less important to have that physical space, but more that community capacity and virtual space, because now people are realizing, ‘Oh, we can do this from anywhere.’ I think moving forward, there’s still obviously going to be a physical presence at some point. But, I think the model is shifting towards partnerships, where we’re able to work with communities that want to be allies, or want to conduct their coworking space in a more holistic way where they can either choose to work with us directly, or there’s some kind of agreement in place. Because, our capacity to help people is much stronger without being tied to the worry of a physical location just on our own.”

What was really interesting, according to Everett, was that “the pandemic upped my capacity as a business owner, to do everything technology wise, in my own population, because Indigenous people as a whole were really sceptical of technology. They were really sceptical of virtual workplaces and before I really had to fight for them to see my product. Well, it probably set me ahead 5-10 years, at least, because I don’t have to fight for that recognition in the community anymore.”

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