Mákook pi Sélim and the new era of Indigenous business

The magazine highlights uniquely Indigenous perspectives, successes, and barriers

Mákook pi Sélim shares the stories of local Indigenous business leaders and entrepreneurs. (Business in Vancouver Magazines/GETTY/temmuzcan

There are very few publications where British Columbians can access up-to-date content that provides information and news about Indigenous-led businesses. There are even fewer that showcase work created entirely by a team of Indigenous writers.

In fact, there’s just one.

Its name is Mákook pi Sélim, which means “buying and selling” in Chinook Jargon, a trade language that Indigenous peoples widely used. Its title was decided in consultation with B.C. linguistics experts after the magazine’s editor, Chastity Davis-Alphonse, approached the editors of Business in Vancouver with the concept of a fully Indigenous-led business publication. The magazine’s inaugural issue came out over the summer in partnership with BIV, and another issue is now in the works for publication in December. 

“I’ve seen the growth of interest, desire to learn, desire to partner — the interest is there from a non-Indigenous business community for Indigenous businesses to be a part of the mainstream economy,” says Davis-Alphonse.

Mákook pi Sélim features profiles of local Indigenous business players like Inez Cook, who owns and runs Salmon n’ Bannock, the only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant in Vancouver. It also includes interviews with Michelle Nahanee and Paisley Nahanee of Nahanee Creative Inc., which offers decolonization courses, interactive media, and design and communication services.

One of the magazine’s columns was written by Khelsilem, a member of the Squamish Nation Council closely involved in developing housing projects, Vancity board member, and founder of a Kwi Awt Stelmexw a Squamish Nation arts and language education non-profit organization.

Davis-Alphonse says that having a diverse range of voices highlighted in the magazine helps overcome people’s perceptions of Indigenous peoples entrenched in other media narratives. In addition to sharing stories about Indigenous-led businesses and the people involved, the magazine also carefully and deliberately focuses on what that coverage looks like, who contributes to it, and what it communicates to the readers about the unique experiences of Indigenous businesses owners. 

“Having a media outlet that is accessible to people, that is relatable, where they can go and learn about the Indigenous peoples of the lands that they live on — I feel like there’s not a lot of places for people to go and easily access that information,” she says.

“If they don’t know Indigenous peoples, if they’re not interacting with them, not having conversations aware of other narratives that are parallel to this dominant narrative going on — like successful Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses and all the work that’s happening in Indigenous communities to overcome generations of colonial policy — then there’s this public perception that is largely negative,” she says.

For Davis-Alphonse, portraying these stories in ways that replace more common and often harmful media narratives about Indigenous peoples is an essential part of Mákook pi Sélim.

“When do we see Indigenous women in the media, largely speaking? It’s when we’re missing and murdered, we’re incarcerated, we’re unfit mothers, and our children are being taken away from us. Or we’re drunk and uneducated and homeless and living in poverty… all these really negative perceptions.”

The magazine also delves into important related topics like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and negotiating consent, incorporating Indigenous traditions and cultural practices into business and leadership philosophy, and the ways in which systemic racism creates barriers for Indigenous business owners.

“We have outstanding land settlements that are pending and likely will be for a while, which gets in the way of Indigenous communities being able to utilize their own lands for their own development or their own business opportunities,” says Davis-Alphonse.

Other barriers that specifically impact Indigenous peoples are pointed out in the magazine by writer Alison Tedford, who interviewed Indigenous business owners who faced systemic difficulties with things like securing business loans — because people who live on reservations do not own the property they live on — or being unable to find promotional stock images online that don’t incorporate culturally inappropriate stereotypes.

“It’s become normalized in the dominant narrative of how we talk about, how we think about, how we relate to Indigenous peoples in Canada. That’s all been informed by colonial policy that has been oppressive and discriminatory and racist,” says Davis-Alphonse, who adds that her fully realized vision of the new era of Indigenous business prioritizes equity.

“It’s really important that as Indigenous peoples, we can write and tell our own stories.”