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Making Notes

Indigenbiz Highlighting Indigenous People & Communities Engaged in Meaningful Business & Economic Development


by Steven McCoy
April 28, 2022

Logo for Hiawatha First Nation

Barry Payne, a successful Indigenous entrepreneur who’s procured well over $200 million dollars in government contracts dealing with everything from bottled water, to X-ray machines, to office supplies, wants to share his business and procurement experiences in hopes of inspiring more Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities to bid on and successfully secure large government tenders.


Last year, the Government of Canada implemented a mandatory requirement for federal departments and agencies to grant a minimum five percent of the total value of contracts to Indigenous businesses in an effort to modernize the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business (PSAB) which was introduced back in 1996 as a tool to increase the number of Indigenous firms participating in the federal procurement process.

Even though these programs were designed to increase Indigenous participation in procurement, it exposed an on-going problem when it comes to identifying who qualifies as an Indigenous person that goes beyond the PSAB.


The problem occurs when people self-identify as Indigenous to capitalize on government set asides or bursaries and grants earmarked for Indigenous people, yet they do not have any real claim to being an Indigenous person, aside from a self-declaration that usually sounds something like ‘my great grandmother was part Cherokee Princess’.


“It eats at me when I see these people in Ottawa, self-identifying (as Indigenous) and getting these contracts.”  Payne said when talking about his experiences and observations of the PSAB.  “I know one guy who lives in a huge mansion on the river there and he has a mansion in Tremblant (Quebec) but he’s not really Indigenous…we had a conversation one time and he told me that his grandmother had some Indigenous in her but that’s it!”  Payne exclaimed.


Systematic policies from the past have severely hindered Indigenous people from getting ahead in life and it is the reason why programs like the PSAB exist today.  They are not meant for someone who’s lived a privileged life and never known the damaging effects and legacy that systematic racist policies have caused to Indigenous people in Canada.


Payne had his own issues as a young man living in Toronto as an Indigenous person such as trying to earn a degree from York University.  Like most Indigenous people, Barry did not have the privilege of being able to afford to just focus on his studies while attending university so he worked loading boxcars at the train yard to make ends meet but after seven years, Payne had to make the tough decision to quit school and start working full-time instead.


Payne found himself selling photocopiers for companies like Cannon and Xerox over the next 13 years but there was a desire slowly smoldering inside Payne.  A desire to control his own destiny and he knew the best way to do that was by being his own boss.


“When you’re not working for yourself, you’re really at the mercy of somebody else’s discretion.  Somebody else is controlling your life.  Someone else is pulling the strings, telling you what’s expected of you.”  Payne said when talking about what moved him to get into business for himself.  “It’s the ability to control your own destiny and that’s one of the driving factors of what led me to change.  So that’s when I first took a step (into entrepreneurship).”


When Payne was still a Xerox agent running an office for the company in the late 90’s, he approached Indian Services Canada and met a contact who told him about the PSAB program.  Payne immediately recognized what a great opportunity this represented for Indigenous suppliers and businesses so that is when he decided to shift his focus towards entrepreneurship.


As a university drop-out with no guidance, no mentorship and no home of his own, Barry went from selling photocopiers to securing multimillion dollar government contracts from the basement of his mom’s house in Hiawatha First Nation.


Payne did not come from a family of entrepreneurs nor did he have any mentors he could rely on so he had to navigate the waters of entrepreneurship on his own.  Payne drew inspiration and guidance from the book Think and Grow Rich written by Napoleon Hill which encouraged him to focus on building relationships that lead to prosperity.


“If you want to learn to be a millionaire you go find a millionaire and ask them.”  Payne said when speaking about how he utilized the lessons learned from Think and Grow Rich.  “When I was at Canon, I had the opportunity to become close friends with the President of Canon who was a multi-millionaire,” Payne continued, “The thing was, he was no different than you and me but he had perseverance.  That’s when I learned you can be anything you want to be if you have the drive to get to that point.”


Even as Payne began to enjoy success as an entrepreneur and build a better life for himself, like many Indigenous entrepreneurs, he faced jealousy and resentment from some of his own people who called him such things as ‘apple’, a derogatory term used amongst Natives to refer to someone who’s ‘brown’ (redskin) on the outside but ‘white’ on the inside.


“It can be a lonely world when you’re Indigenous and go into business,”  said Payne.  “Even my mother was negative against me doing that.”  But Payne did not let the negative attitudes bring him down.


Instead, he surrounded himself with positive, like-minded people by joining sales and ads clubs, the local chamber of commerce and listening to positive success stories in his car on Amway cassette tapes.


Payne was recently a presenter at the U.S., Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA) Small and Medium Enterprise Dialogue held in San Antonio, Texas where he met with other Indigenous businesspeople from across the continent.

“One thing I learned, all the Indigenous, no matter what country, they’re all phenomenal people.  It’s an unspoken thing where we got to work together and it’s a real connection.  It’s been very rewarding with the people I’ve met.”  Payne said about working with Indigenous people from other countries.  


One of the things Payne would like to see is more exchange programs happen between Indigenous students from Canada, U.S. and Mexico where they get exposed to business practices early on in life.


“Why can’t we get the kids engaged now?  Why do they have to wait until they’re grown up and in business before they get to know people from across borders?  Get their kids involved with our kids.” Payne said when speaking about how he would like to see young Indigenous students work together with other Indigenous students from different countries.

When asked what advice Payne has to offer to new and would-be Indigenous entrepreneurs out there, he said the three biggest factors that determine success are mentorship, networking and constant education.


“Mentorship is the biggest one.  We didn’t have mentors back then.  It was trial and error.  Now there’s so many fabulous organizations out there and access to mentorship in every direction if you want.” said Payne.


He encourages others to leverage their networks with such tools as LinkedIn and says to surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who encourage you to succeed while avoiding the naysayers.

Steven McCoy Pic.jpg


Steven McCoy is an Ojibwe from Garden River First Nation in Northern Ontario and life-long resident of Sault Ste. Marie.  He is the founder of Indigenbiz where he publishes his journalistic work highlighting Indigenous people in business.  ​He is also a successful businessman who specializes in communications, marketing, public relations and Indigenous liaison through another company he founded called Gencity Consulting.  In addition, Steven is a skilled public speaker with a unique ability to capture the audience's attention through descriptive story telling.  He is also a motivational speaker who draws upon his life experiences growing up off-reserve while overcoming poverty, abandonment and racism to achieve success.

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