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Aboriginal entrepreneurship – and with it growing economic development – is ramping up in many communities, on and off reserve. The number of aboriginal entrepreneurs surged 85 per cent between 1996 and 2006, according to census figures, and growth rates have far outstripped the pace of new non-aboriginal business owners. The surge in entrepreneurship spans sectors, from new companies tied to the country’s natural resources boom to firms in banking, tourism and catering. Here’s a look at some of them.

Nk'Mip Cellars
Nk'Mip Cellars is North America's first aboriginal-owned and -operated winery. It overlooks the shores of Osoyoos Lake in the Okanagan Valley, and sits on natural desert land surrounded by sagebrush and vineyards. Nk'Mip Cellars is open year-round with seasonal patio service and special events that celebrate native traditions.

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First Air
Makivik Corp., the organization representing the Inuit of Northern Quebec, bought First Air in 1990. It is now the largest airline in Canada’s Arctic, with service between 30 northern communities and connections to Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton. It employs more than 1000 employees, almost half of whom live in the Arctic.

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Det’on Cho Corp.
Established in 1988 with a $15,000 grant, the Det’on Cho group in the Northwest Territories now includes more than 15 companies from logistics to real estate. Together the group generated $83-million in revenue last year. Pictured: A Det’on Cho Construction worker floods a winter ice road.

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First Nations Bank
Founded in 1996, First Nations Bank of Canada is a bank focused on financial services for the country’s aboriginal market. As of 2009, the bank became more than 80 per cent aboriginal-owned and controlled. Its assets have grown every year for 14 years.

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Windigo Catering Ltd.
This catering company is owned by five First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario. It offers camp management, catering, housekeeping and laundry services to Goldcorp’s Musselwhite mine at their fly-in camp on Opapimiskan Lake, and has since expanded services to Thunder Bay.

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Manitobah Mukluks
In 1997, Sean McCormick started a production facility for leather moccasins, mukluks and fringed bags. Sales grew as Manitobah Mukluks started distributing to retailers such as Town Shoes. Kate Moss, Megan Fox and Jessica Biel became customers, which, along with global marketing and a growing social media presence, sparked overseas interest. Today, the company sells its goods in 21 countries, from Russia to Japan, and sales are five times what they were three years ago.

John Woods/The Globe and Mail

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