Tara Everett on Indigenizing Coworking

When Tara Everett suddenly lost her dream job two years ago, she began a consulting business.

In her kitchen she came across the same issue that many people who work from home face. Working from a home office can be extremely lonely and she missed having community and a support system.

She looked around but couldn’t find a coworking space that met her needs as an Anishinaabe Two-Spirit woman. That is when she identified the need for Canoe Coworking Inc., an Indigenous owned and led business where people could gather to find community, resources and programs that helped them succeed.

Due to her experience working in employment and project management for non-profits, the concept of a community-focused coworking space came naturally to Tara.

“I wanted to help people meet their goals and not somebody else’s,” she says.

Canoe Coworking Inc. is Manitoba’s first Indigenous coworking space. There are currently less than 20 coworking spaces worldwide owned and operated by Indigenous peoples – out of 30,000 internationally and growing. Canoe will have everything that you might expect of an office space, like a mix of private and open workspaces, the ability to record podcasts and webinars, and tech support. What sets it apart is the traditional and cultural elements they also plan to foster opening doors for Indigenous peoples and allies to come together.

There will be an Elders Lounge for people to go to for rest, guidance and the ability to smudge and have ceremony indoors. It will be a dry location, in line with Indigenous cultural protocol.  The design and artwork will holistically reflect Indigenous culture, not just First Nations, Métis, or Inuit.

“We want to break those barriers down and show that the Indigenous people in Winnipeg are beautifully different and show how can we respect those traditions in a space,” Tara says.

Although commercial coworking spaces in Winnipeg have started cropping up fairly recently, Tara says that working through collaboration within communities has existed for generations in Indigenous cultures.

Tara believes that the strength of coworking lies in sharing resources and information. For example, if someone in a coworking space is facing a technical issue, it can get solved really quickly and easily if the right people are around to help them fix it.

“Those kind of opportunities, I believe were always in an Indigenous space with bartering and trading,” Tara says. “If one person was failing, then the entire society was failing because that was their system.”

The foundation of Canoe is built on collaboration. Tara worked out a deal with the graphic designer who built her website based on the exchange of skills and value, instead of money. In return for the hours he billed working for her, Tara will provide him space at Canoe Coworking.

“It (Coworking) is about finding the value of what you’re offering to provide versus the value of what somebody else can provide,” Tara says.

Tara has spent the last couple of years trying to educate people on what coworking is and its benefits. On August 9, 2019, she organized an International Coworking Day event at a local coffee shop where people could come, work together, and experience coworking for themselves. Tara says a lot of people have shown an interest in booking a space but aren’t ready to make a commitment until they see a physical space.

Over the last two years, Tara has lost her space twice. The first deal fell through and the second location was destroyed in a fire. She says it’s important to let Indigenous business define what a business and success means to them. According to Tara, success isn’t black or white in today’s economy because a company can achieve instant success or take a long time to build.

“It’s doing something that you love and are passionate about, and are able to get an income from, that’ll help you support your life,” she says.

Tara is currently working on negotiations for a new space. She’s also planning coworking popups centered around membership building and partnerships. She hopes to have it up and running by the end of 2019.