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Twenty four year old Demi Benjoe is excited to open a food truck business that offers healthy and affordable food. She is looking forward to taking her food truck to Indigenous events, offering a nutritious alternative for her community. Photo by Madina Azizi.

As a 14-year-old, Demi Benjoe lacked self-confidence and undervalued herself. “I was ashamed of myself,” said Benjoe.

“I always wanted not to be seen, you know, always behind the scenes. I really didn’t think I was important.”

But things started to transform for Benjoe when her cousin invited her to take part in the first Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp in 2009.

Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp is an annual camp for Indigenous youth of Canada in grades ten to twelve. It takes place at the First Nations University of Canada every August.

Now, ten years later, Benjoe says she has changed and attending the camp was the change she needed. “This camp really gave me the confidence,” said Benjoe.

Each year, around 25 youths gather from across Saskatchewan, and a few from other provinces, to listen to Indigenous entrepreneurs, professors and business students encouraging campers to attend university and consider going into the field of business.

“Business ownership and business school training, the indigenous students are underrepresented in those fields,” said business department head and marketing professor, Richard Missens. “We wanted to present entrepreneurship and business management to students as an opportunity to help grow the number of young people entering into these fields and disciplines.”

In the ten years since it started, the camp has remained true to its three main objectives: to encourage Indigenous youths to attend a post-secondary institution after finishing high school, to inspire Indigenous youth to consider a career in the business field and to recruit Indigenous youths to attend the First Nations University of Canada.

In the week long camp, students attend university classes, lectures and workshops by business professors and experience campus life and food.

“We want to expose them to the university life. Sort of a University 101,” said Missens, adding that usually half the students who attend the camp go on to attend a post-secondary institution.

“I hope all these kids go to university and get an university degree. That would open so many doors for them and will change their lives forever,” said Missens.

Benjoe attended the camp three years in a row before attending FNUniv and finishing a degree in Health Studies.

“Speaking about it makes me emotional but it gave me something to look forward to in the summer because I knew I would be around amazing and inspiring people.”

One of the activities that students do in the camp is coming up with business ideas and presenting them to the rest of the group. The business idea that Benjoe presented to her group ten years ago is the business she is bringing to life today—which incorporates her camp experience and her degree in health studies.

“A lot of Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan don’t have access to healthy, quality foods,” said Benjoe. “I want to get a food truck business and travel to those communities during events and provide them quality, affordable, healthy foods.”

Benjoe says she is done writing up her business plan and now she is planning to apply for a loan to take her business to the next level. Her goal is to have the food truck in operation by next summer.

“If it wasn’t for this camp, I don’t think I would have thought about the food truck idea,” said Benjoe.

“I had a lot of self-worth and self-value issues,” said Benjoe. “But coming to this camp at the First Nation University and sitting among so many successful Indigenous leaders, other campers, and inspiring Indigenous professors just gave me that uplifting feeling that my life is meaningful. It made me feel proud of where I came from.”