How to decolonise the degraded First Nations entrepreneurial landscape

First Nations entrepreneurs have been at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship from being the oldest bakers in the world to building the oldest known aquaculture that was used for farming fish and eels. However, they are often overlooked by the mainstream Australian economy due to systemic discrimination, institutional racism and cultural bias.

What problems are faced by First Nation entrepreneurs?

In urban areas, First Nations entrepreneurs face significant challenges accessing markets, resources and investment capital. And yet there is an abundance of untapped potential that can be leveraged if we make the right decisions to decolonise our approach to business development for First Nations entrepreneurs. Blakwashing is the act of misleading consumers about the blak identity of a company or the First Nations benefits of a product or service.

Blakwashing is the act of misleading consumers about the company or policies as ‘Indigenous’ when they’re not. It is a form of corporate propaganda and false advertising.

Blakwashing often involves making unsubstantiated claims about some aspect of an organisation’s products, services, or public image. Blakwashing is also a form of false advertising because it attempts to convince customers that its company or products are First Nations – often through clever but deceptive marketing tactics such as using a First Nations person as the lead or ‘founder’ or using First Nations artwork on their products.

This can lead people into thinking that products are a legitimate First Nations business. First Nations entrepreneurs who attended Supply Nation Connect 2022 have accused Supply Nation of allowing black cladding and black face businesses to be allowed to roam free and showcased on the very same platforms that were supposed to help First Nations suppliers.

Is Supply Nation taking sides?

“I’m interested to see who will be the first to be charged for fraud for black cladding. It has to be coming… I expect the Labor Gov’t to stamp down on this fraudulent behaviour.” said Jolleen Hicks. With the growing criticism of the blakwashing of First Nations entrepreneurship and Indigenous Procurement Policy, the gov’t needs to stamp out blakwashing and support Indigenous entrepreneurship so as to have positive impact on closing the disparity gaps.

Biggest disappointment of this years connect is the black cladded and black face businesses just being allowed to roam free. Supply Nation, a joint venture between Indigenous and non-Indigenous entrepreneurs, has received criticism over the years for promoting blakwashing.

Some people are even comparing the Federal Indigenous Procurement Policy to the Northern Territory Indigenous Procurement Policy where at least one business owner in the NT who was convicted of fraud as a result of the failed NT version of IPP. The irony of course is that a scheme designed to increase the participation of Aboriginal businesses in government contracts was discontinued because non-Aboriginal businesses were ripping it off.

We need to celebrate genuine and practical acts of reconciliation, instead of tokenism or symbolic acts. An example of this is our recent partnership with Gawk, which is providing free billboard advertising for the First Nations Lottery where they can without any expectation of a financial return… The Reconciliation and the Indigenous Procurement Policy space should ensure that “giving without expecting anything in return” is a core value.

Dean Foley is the CEO and founder of Barayamal.