6 Indigenous Business Women to Celebrate on International Women’s Day

Small Business Canada

As the year 2024 gears up for tremendous economic changes, the Canadian business landscape is fast changing with every passing day. And though low on numbers, women entrepreneurs have made significant contributions to the Canadian economy without a shadow of a doubt! However, one community of women stands out amongst the broad ethnicities and backgrounds – the Canadian Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs. From having to grapple a genocide to fighting for their fundamental rights, these formidable Indigenous women have definitely come a long to stand where they are today.

They have carved out their place as significant contributors to the economy after facing numerous challenges, battling systemic barriers and historical injustices. What’s more, these resilient yet beautiful leaders have emerged, their paths characterized by perseverance, resolve, and a steadfast dedication to their respective communities.

In observance of International Women’s Day 2024 on March 8, which is centered around the theme ‘Inspire Inclusion,’ it is crucial to contemplate the extraordinary advancements achieved by Indigenous women entrepreneurs and the lasting influence they exert. These women transcend mere entrepreneurs; they are innovators who challenge preconceived notions and transform perspectives with every significant accomplishment they attain. Today, we specifically mention and commemorate the six most successful Indigenous women entrepreneurs who have stirred the Canadian business community for many great reasons.

So, let us all take this opportunity to borrow some of the inspiration and passion these women exude for not just uplifting their communities but making a bigger & positive difference.

Erin Brillon, Co-Owner of Totem Design House – Comox, BC

Conceived as a collaboration between brother and sister team Jesse and Erin Brillion, Totem Design House began in 2004 with a line of custom clothing that has since evolved into a brand that has expanded to produce sustainable clothing, jewelry and wellness products. The Brillons are of Haida and Cree ancestry and have grown up with a profound appreciation for their rich cultural heritage. Raised on the Northwest Coast of BC to a commercial fishing family, the two are influenced by their Nation’s surrounding nature and art. 

The business rapidly expanded in 2014 when Erin and her then 14-year-old daughter learned to screen-print. In 2016, she launched her first eco-friendly collections of women’s wear and home decor textiles.

In 2015, acclaimed Northwest Coast artist Andy Everson joined the team. Today, Totem Design House produces a wide range of works, including an exclusive collection of Andy’s works featuring traditional motifs on hemp pillows and a series melding traditional art with pop culture.

Sarah Meconse Mierau, Owner of Ancestor Cafe/Tradish – Vancouver, BC

Debuting this March is Ancestor Cafe, owned by Chef Sarah Meconse Mierau, founder and owner of the Indigenous jam and catering company Tradish. Opening in Fort Langley, the new cafe will expand on Tradish’s mission to bring traditional Indigenous nourishment to urban Indigenous and non-Indigenous health-conscious people while supporting Indigenous food sovereignty. 

Diners at Ancestor Cafe will enjoy cuisine prepared by Chef Sarah Meconse Mierau and her 17-year-old son, who will be the lead cook at their new cafe.  The mother/son duo is known for their nourishing jams, which utilize traditional botanical ingredients for additional health benefits that are equally delicious.

Teara Fraser, Owner of Iskwew Air and Liberty Wilderness Lodge – Vancouver, BC

Award-winning entrepreneur and Canadian aviation leader, CEO Teara Fraser is a serial entrepreneur with a penchant for breaking boundaries in more than a few industries. As the first Indigenous woman to establish her own airline, Iskwew Air, Fraser is carving a path through what has historically been a male-dominated industry. 

This year marks another debut for the influential woman, as she launches Liberty Wilderness Lodge on Babine Lake. The off-grid wellness lodge offers a unique and rustic remote wilderness experience. Guests are surrounded by nature and have the opportunity to reconnect with the land, sea, and sky. Nestled in the trees and just steps from the ocean, the resort will offer some of the region’s most incredible Indigenous outdoor experiences. The lodge will open in mid-May, further inspiring generations of women in their entrepreneurial pursuits.

Alison Pascal, Curator at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre – Whistler, BC

Guided by her passion for the land and by the protocols of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw and L̓il̓wat7úl Nations, Alison Pascal curates the exhibits for the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler.  Following a background in tourism management, Pascal was introduced to Indigenous Tourism during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, where the L̓il̓wat7úl (Lil’wat) Nation partnered with four host First Nations to develop education opportunities, one area of which was the tourism sector.  

Starting by sharing her community’s story, Pascal’s role slowly evolved, becoming more of a curator, maintaining the art pieces, helping to install new exhibitions, and collaborating with local artists.  Before long, she was developing and curating exhibits and now leads the team as the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre Curator.

Marina LeClair, Co-Founder of Tawnshi Charcuterie – Vancouver, BC

Tawnshi Charcuterie is a twist on the typical charcuterie fare featuring unique fusions of Indigenous flavours and ingredients sourced from Indigenous suppliers and communities across Canada. The idea for the innovative company came to Co-Founder Marina LeClair in the shower and has been garnering attention for the incredible ingredients that differ with each box.  

Made up of unique flavours and bites such as pickled milkweed pods, cedar jelly, sea bacon and a variety of other Indigenous foods not often included on traditional charcuterie boards. Every box comes with a QR code that tells you more about each item providing insight into where the product originated and how best to enjoy. 

Maria Clark, Assistant General Manager at Tin Wis – Tofino, BC

As Assistant General Manager at Tin Wis in Tofino, Maria has a staff of over 30 reporting to her. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge with people from around the world and inspiring other Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members within the Tin Wis team to offer the gift of their culture and language, Nuu-Chah-nulth, with guests creating a meaningful exchange for all.

Born and raised in Tofino, Maria has deep roots in the local community and a strong connection to the land. Throughout her tenure at Tin Wis Resort, Maria advanced through a number of key roles before taking on the Assistant Manager position. Her commitment to the community is further embodied in her time volunteering and supporting local events and initiatives promoting environmental sustainability and cultural preservation.

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