Occupation: I am the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and a member of several boards, including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Independent Electricity System Operator, Wigwamen Inc., and Young People’s Theatre in Toronto. I’m also a member of the Catalyst Canada Inc. advisory board.
My husband and I are fairly risk-averse, perhaps in part because we’re both engineers, so we have always been fiscally responsible and have kept our debt very low. I have a pension from my previous career and we have invested in part ownership of my husband’s consulting engineering business. We have a financial advisor who manages our investments. That’s something we will focus on more as our children approach post-secondary school. Our current focus is on real estate and continuing to invest in the business.
Driven to make a difference
What drives me is the inspirational resilience of Indigenous people — that despite the barriers and roadblocks, Indigenous people continue to find ways to start new businesses and enter into new ventures. We have seen significant growth in the Indigenous economy over the years. Notwithstanding the systemic racism and inequality all Indigenous people face, for many years, Indigenous people were forcefully prevented from participating in the economy. For example, up until 2014, First Nations people had to have a permit to leave their community to sell the produce they grew on their farms and were barred from both selling their produce to settlers and buying farm machinery.
Today there are close to 60,000 Indigenous-owned businesses in Canada operating in every sector, size and region. We are creating businesses at nine times the rate of non-Indigenous Canadians.
Striving toward gender equality
The biggest hurdles in my career have without a doubt been gender inequality and sexism. Starting my career as a female engineer in construction, I had to work harder every day to earn the same respect, to create opportunities and to build a trusted network. That experience taught me the importance of quality, accurate and detailed work in building one’s reputation.
I chose a career in electrical engineering so I could be a bridge between Indigenous communities and the energy sector. My experience at the Independent Electricity System Operator taught me that true partnerships with communities need to be built over time and that communities need to be involved in the planning phase. Once the project plan is established, it’s much too late.
Working on a brighter 2021
As we head into 2021, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel [but] businesses are still struggling from the pandemic. The CCAB will continue to press for equitable support for Indigenous businesses. We will continue to collect data on the Indigenous economy so we can understand where there is opportunity for growth and how we can provide support. We’ll also support the Government of Canada in achieving its target of at least 5% Indigenous procurement across all federal departments within five years.
Up close and personal
I could not live without the support of my family. My boys are now 12 and 15 and are competitive hockey, baseball and lacrosse players, which keeps us very busy. With the exception of taking maternity leave, I have worked throughout their upbringing. My husband is an incredible dad and supportive husband, and without his equal contribution around the house and with homework, I would not be where I am today. Equally important is the example we are setting for our boys.