In Celebration of Aboriginal Business

December 5th was a star-studded night for Aboriginal Business in BC. The BC Achievement Foundation Annual Aboriginal Awards was held this year at the Bayshore Inn in Vancouver. 540 people attended to see 15 Awards going out in 7 categories.

Award presentations consisted of three types of Awards. There are 6 categories of juried awards and the winners of each of these categories are called Recipients (I am also calling them the top winners), Runner-ups of the juried Awards and are called Outstanding Business Achievers. Then there is award for Lifetime Achievement.
The top winner in each category is featured on a DVD made by Fred Cawsey of Front Runner Productions. If you want to see who these top winners are, learn about their businesses and be inspired you can find these DVDs at

It was an amazing evening of recognition of the best in aboriginal business. From the moment you arrived at the reception the room was abuzz with excitement and anticipation. The reception and dinner are a great place to see old friends and meet new ones. It is a place to make new business contacts whether it is a potential business partners, a financial institution, or a supplier. When you are an entrepreneur you seize every opportunity to pursue the good business deals and there was a lot of that going on in the room! I was honoured to have been able to emcee such a positive event!

The evening started with recognition of youth entrepreneurs. The top winner of the Youth Entrepreneur of the Year was Erica Ryan-Gagne. Erica runs a hair salon and spa in lovely Haida Gwaii and was inspirational. She talked about how a few years ago she was sitting in the audience at the business awards and set her goal to become the youth entrepreneur by the time she was 30. Days before her 30th birthday she got the call that realized her dream- she was the winner of the award. Demonstrates how going to the awards and seeing what other people are doing in business and achieving can motivate you to do the same. One of the reasons why we have these awards.

A surprise award that not even the recipient knew about went to Ruth Williams. Ruth retired as CEO for ANTCO this year. Ruth has dedicated much if her life to the promotion of aboriginal business. It was indeed fitting to recognize her work. This is only the second time the Achievement Foundation has done this.

The beauty of our cultures was showcased with Lisa Shepherd, Metis Artisan who makes gorgeous beaded works from moccasins to gloves and baby bunting bags and other products. Stunning work. She was the top winner in Business of the Year for 1-2 persons. Another business promoting our traditional arts was I-hos Gallery in K'omoks-a First Nation owned business that sells many kinds of First Nation art, jewellery and other items both in the store and on line. I-Hos won Outstanding Business achievement for Community Owned Business. It is one of my favourite stores to shop in.

For those of you who love food and who doesn't? Salmon ‘n bannock won for Outstanding Business of the year for 2-10 persons. They have run a successful First Nations cuisine restaurant on Broadway in Vancouver since the Olympics. Kudos to Inez Cook and team who provide a tantalizing menu of traditional foods.

Environmental sustainability was featured in several businesses as well. One of the top winners for Joint Venture business of the year went to Ts’elxweyeqw tribe Management limited that does forestry sustainably. Outstanding businesses: Spirit Lake Silviculture of Campbell River is a company that specializes in vegetation management. It provides a high standard of safety and environment protection. Teepee Mountain Native Plants of Cranbrook provides local native pant material to BC’s varied ecosystems. It grows over 80 different species and propagates its stock from locally collected seed plants. The Outstanding Youth Entrepreneur Terence Giesbrecht runs a full service year round board and cycle shop. Keeping cars off the road! These businesses are great examples of high environmental standards that First Nations people uphold.

Other businesses that provide services to First Nations communities included top winner Sunridge Equipment Ltd. Out of Kamloops and Budding Children Garden and Daycare. Outstanding Business providing services includes Transformation International, a social and economic development consulting company run by Carol Ann Hilton and Ainjil Hunt. Also, Chu Cho Industries is a company owned by Tsay Keh Dene Band who provides service contracts for debris management and dust mitigation and doing earth moving and heavy equipment construction. As well, a Joint Venture company Outstanding Business Achievement is LHI Tutl’it Services provides finance, bonding and equipment to carry out specialized mechanical work.

Adding beauty to the Landscape was Alfred Waugh who is an architect who designed such places as the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Gathering Place at VIU and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. His award was outstanding business from 2 to 10 persons.

Community of the year award went to HaiCo. The Haida Nation have put in place businesses based on their values and love of the land to create jobs and revenue for their First Nations. Their DVD is worth watching as it shows the various community members running different businesses and makes you understand the real meaning of Community business.

The individual Award went to Sophie Pierre. A well deserved award. The award is presented to an individual who, over his or her career, has made a positive contribution to the Aboriginal business community, and in doing so, has served as a leader, a mentor and an inspiration. Sophie's efforts in converting a residential school into a hotel and casino is well known. A beautiful golf course is part of this as well. If you go to Cranbrook you must visit the St Eugenes Resort. Sophie’s experience goes beyond this of course but in recent years chairing Aboriginal Tourism BC is worth mentioning.

The BC Achievement Foundation Aboriginal Awards are a positive, awe inspiring, and much sought after awards. Sponsors like the new Relationship Trust, BC Hydro, Spectra Energy, Encana, Teck and Meyers Norris and Penney make the awards possible. We must acknowledge and thank them many times for their support of something this positive. We cannot forget the support of the leadership in the province and the presence of Cheryl Casimer, Grand Chief Ed John, Leah George-Wilson, Ray Harris and President Bruce Dumont really illustrated their commitment to Aboriginal Business.

So many different businesses doing so many different things from all over the province gives you an idea of the magnitude of entrepreneurship in aboriginal communities throughout the province.

BC First Nations and Métis people are making their place in BC business. Showcasing their successes is key to the recognition that aboriginal people are an integral part of the economy in this province and that it can be done within the values of our people. Remember to nominate a worthy aboriginal business for next year’s event and be part of the excitement and star studded evening.

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