Josh Nilson supports Indigenous organizations and events through his company, East Side Games
Sure, the indie video game developer isn’t technically on Vancouver’s east side anymore, having recently outgrown its Gastown digs. (Its new Cambie Street HQ sits across from City Hall and houses about 85 employees.) But East Side Games is still committed to its scrappy image as an outside-the-box publisher. That’s how you get titles like Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money and It’s Always Sunny: The Gang Goes Mobile.
Co-founder and CEO Josh Nilson also hasn’t forgotten much about his past. Having grown up of Métis descent in Willow River, a community of about 150 half an hour northeast of Prince George, he didn’t exactly follow a well-trodden path to becoming a Vancouver executive.
“One of the challenges in Canada about being an Indigenous person is that you don’t talk about where you’re from. You kind of relate to your European ancestry and go through school and your life that way,” Nilson says. “And now that I’m in my 40s, it’s just a thing where we have a business and built this profitable B.C. company and we want to celebrate our culture as well.”
Last October, East Side Games was a major sponsor of Toronto’s ImagineNative, the world’s largest Indigenous film and interactive media festival. The company has also created initiatives to help Indigenous youth get involved in the gaming industry and continues to participate in organizations and events focused on supporting the Downtown Eastside’s underprivileged, like Crabtree Corner Community Resource Centre and Presents of Peace.
Nilson and his team are now developing a few games that will showcase Indigenous stories, but he admits it calls for something of a process. “The Vancouver Canucks shouldn’t just put an f–ing totem pole on their jersey and say, Here you go; how do you like that? But maybe if they got local artists to do something, it’s different.”
The leadership team at Hedgehog Technologies (from left): Janesa Charles, accounting manager; Michael Wrinch, founder and CEO; Erin Martin-Serrano, director of business development; Younes Rashidi, director of engineering
Burnaby electrical engineering firm Hedgehog, founded in 2001 by president Michael Wrinch, started getting seriously involved with Indigenous communities about 12 years ago. It all began when the company won a contract to build a smart grid in Hartley Bay, a coastal community near Prince Rupert.
“By doing that, we discovered that it’s more than just coming to Indigenous people with the facts,” Wrinch recalls. “We needed to understand their point of view and that it wasn’t really about us coming to do the work; it was about us working with them, and allowing them to be trained enough so that we didn’t have to come there anymore.”
Wrinch and his team dubbed people in the community “energy champions,” training many of them to run IT systems.
Currently, Hedgehog’s 20 employees are partnering with the Haida Nation to help it convert Haida Gwaii to 100-percent renewable energy. “The Haida Nation has got social buy-in, and we’re working with them and their energy coordinators to make sure people are trained to do that,” Wrinch says.
The Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at UVic takes pride in its ACE Program
Over the past decade, UVic has vastly stepped up its efforts to partner with First Nations groups and help provide education to Indigenous people and communities. A prime example: the Gustavson School of Business’s Aboriginal Canadian Entrepreneurs (ACE) Program, which began about eight years ago. ACE aims to enable business ownership, self-sufficiency and full economic participation by Indigenous people in projects that take place on their traditional territories.
To that end, ACE, with its 16 two-day workshops plus 16 weeks of coaching, has graduated 24 cohorts totalling 352 Indigenous entrepreneurs who now run 96 businesses across 67 communities in B.C.
“We don’t push the program on anybody; we’re invited in, and we say, OK, what role would you like entrepreneurship to play within your community? And it really is different in each community,” says ACE program director Brent Mainprize. “That whole process takes almost two years from when we get an invitation to when we start delivering, because those conversations take a long time and those relationships build very slowly, and part of it is understanding each other as partners.”