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Nine Indigenous entrepreneurial leaders recognized for outstanding achievements and impact

Press Release

OTTAWA, ON, Nov. 8, 2022 – Last week, Pow Wow Pitch, a non-profit organization supporting and celebrating Indigenous entrepreneurs, announced nine Award Winners from across Turtle Island at the 2nd Annual Indigenous Entrepreneurship Awards, co-presented by RBC, Shopify, Meta and Mastercard in partnership with Export Development Canada and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.

The Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards recognize and celebrate excellence and outstanding impact in Indigenous entrepreneurship by recognizing nine entrepreneurial leaders for their perseverance, growth, impact and example.

Sunshine Tenasco, Co-Founder of Pow Wow Pitch from Kitigan Zibi, QC, hosted the event, which featured a special performance of ‘Rise Up’ by musician Alicia Kayley from Long Point First Nation and Tahltan First Nation and nine Award presentations.

MEET THE 2022 INDIGENOUS ENTREPRENEUR AWARD WINNERS

Bobbie Racette, Founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus (Calgary, AB)
RBC Entrepreneurial Icon Award Winner – Watch

“I want a future with diversity and representation across all sectors. My challenge to everyone is to set and meet targets for hiring Indigenous people. Just imagine the impact if everyone did this.”

As a Calgary-based Cree-Métis woman committed to inclusivity and championing LGBTQ2+ and Indigenous tech and business, Bobbie Racette is an unstoppable force as the Founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus. Virtual Gurus made headlines this Spring for being the first-ever Indigenous-owned business to raise Venture Capital. Today, Virtual Gurus has 40 employees, supports more than 650 virtual assistants, and has its sights set on global growth.

Justin Gladue, Founder and CEO of Atlantic Fence Alberta Inc. (Edmonton, AB)
RBC Rising Star Award Winner – Watch

“I see a future where there isn’t an industry that doesn’t have strong Indigenous businesses. We need to support our brothers and sisters in business and life. We are strong, we are thriving, and we are still here.”

As a member of Kehewin Cree Nation, Justin Gladue created Atlantic Fence in 2001, specializing in chain-link fencing for residential, commercial, and industrial fencing services across Alberta. Having started as a family-run business, Justin now employs 15 full-time Indigenous professionals, with more than $2.5M in revenues annually. Justin and Atlantic Fence give back in many ways to youth across Alberta.

Jeff Ward, Founder and CEO of Animikii (Victoria, BC)
Mastercard Game Changer Award Winner – Watch

“Indigenous entrepreneurs are leading so much positive change in our communities. Every day, we are living outside of our comfort zone. Although that can be a challenging state to be in, it is also where we find our greatest growth.”

Jeff Ward is Ojibwe and Métis, originally from Manitoba, and now lives and works in Victoria, British Columbia, on Lekwungen territory. Jeff is the founder of Animikii, a digital services agency that works with leading, Indigenous-focused organizations across Turtle Island to drive positive change for Indigenous Peoples through technology. Jeff also serves as an Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) Board Member. He is committed to using his business, knowledge and expertise to uplift his family, community and Indigenous peoples.

Carol Anne Hilton, Founder & CEO of the Indigenomics Institute (Vancouver, BC)
Mastercard Game Ganger Award Winner – Watch

“It is a powerful thing to be an Indigenous entrepreneur today. Indigenous entrepreneurs’ success is a strong indicator of community and nation-building. Entrepreneurship is a tool of possibility and opportunity.”

Carol Anne Hilton is a Vancouver-based Hesquiaht author and CEO. She wrote Indigenomics: Taking a Seat at the Economic Table and is the Founder and CEO of The Indigenomics Institute. As an author, educator, and business and economic policy leader, she always asks – Who wants to play Indigenomics? – inviting everyone to play a role in reconciliation through Indigenous-led economic development.

Michaelee Lazore, Founder and CEO of Sequoia Soaps (QC)
Shopify Entrepreneurial Spirit Award Winner – Watch

“My vision for the future of Indigenous entrepreneurship is for us to work collectively, even more, to raise each other up. Let’s share our stories through our products and be known as brands of quality worldwide.”

Michaelee Lazore, Mohawk from Akwesáhsne and Northern Paiute from Nevada, is the Founder of Sequoia Soaps. From humble beginnings in Michaelee’s kitchen in 2002, Sequoia offers beauty and wellness products across Canada and out of her boutique in Kahnawake, Quebec. Sequoia is a proudly Indigenous company and has been featured on BuzzFeed, Elle Canada, Lou Lou, Chatelaine, Flare, and Spirit magazines, demonstrating Indigenous excellence in sustainable beauty and entrepreneurship. Michaelee is one of the top-performing Indigenous companies on the Shopify platform and is passionate about playing it forward by supporting and championing the next generation of Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Jacob Faithful, Founder and CEO of Young Spirit Supplies (Frog Lake, AB)
Shopify Entrepreneurial Spirit Award Winner – Watch

“Our focus is to enrich our communities with a sense of Indigenous identity. The pandemic has put everything into perspective and demonstrated the resilience of Indigenous people.”

Jacob Faithful leads Young Spirit Singers, a Grammy-nominated drumming group that sings in Plains Cree and has members throughout the Western United States and Canada. With pandemic lockdowns leading to cancelled powwows, Jacob, who belongs to Frog Lake First Nation, turned to support his community by creating Young Spirit Supplies. Young Spirit Supplies is a sanitation supply company out of Lethbridge, Alberta, which has been busy during the pandemic, trying to get enough masks, disinfectant and other products to First Nations. Young Spirit Supplies has grown to 17 full-time Indigenous employees with $3.5M in annual sales and a Health Canada Medical Device Establishment License for their surgical face masks and respirators for adults and children.

Clairissa Cruz, Founder & CEO, Bare Body Sugaring (Nelson House, MB)
Meta Entrepreneurial Spirt Award Winner – Watch

“I am just one story in a rich culture of Indigenous people, who have endured so much and overcome so many challenges and yet, have remained resilient. We have every right and every capacity to be successful, not despite being Indigenous, but because we are Indigenous.”

Clairissa Cruz, from Nelson House First Nation in Manitoba, founded Bare Body Sugaring in 2009 and now owns several locations. Having started from her basement as a single mom, after 13 years in the industry, self-funding her business each step of the way, Bare Body Sugaring is now the top body sugaring business in Manitoba. Committed to giving back to the community, Clairissa also provides mentorship and coaching to women entering the Beauty Industry and is launching a sugaring school and certification program this year. Clairissa donates to residential school survivors and various community organizations, supports youth in her community, and advocates for entrepreneurship and equality.

Trisha Pitura, Founder & CEO of MINI TIPI (Gatineau, QC)
EDC Entrepreneurial Leader Award Winner – Watch

“Entrepreneurship is empowering because it challenges you and reveals your true capabilities. These are exciting times for Indigenous entrepreneurs; we are here, we are rising, we continue to show our gifts, and we have a strong community that supports each other through collaboration.”

Trisha Pitura, from Nipissing First Nation and now living in Gatineau, Quebec, is the Co-Founder of MINI TIPI, which owns and manufactures beautiful home and fashion products with authentic Indigenous designs to celebrate and reclaim Indigenous art and culture. Since launching in 2016, Trisha and her co-founder have grown MINI TIPI to more than 16 full-time employees and more than $1.2M in annual revenues. MINI TIPI is committed to the value of generosity and giving back with a strong relationship with their local women’s crisis shelter and food bank.

Dan General, Founder & CEO of DJShub Inc. (Fort Erie, ON)
ITAC Creative Award Winner – Watch

“Music is medicine, and going out and playing live shows, you see the impact of music on people.”

For the first time this year, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) partnered with Pow Wow Pitch to spotlight Indigenous entrepreneurs in the creative industry, awarding Dan General (DJ Shub) the ITAC Creative Award and a $10,000 prize.

Dan is a Mohawk DJ, music producer, and member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, living in Fort Erie, Ontario. Dan has won numerous awards, including a Juno, for his work as a former member of A Tribe Called Red, as a DJ, and for solo pursuits. Through music, the creative arts and entrepreneurship, Dan brings diverse Indigenous music to non-Indigenous audiences and has captured the emotion, spirit and pulse of the times for Indigenous people and issues across Turtle Island, evoking feelings of Indigenous pride, power and reclamation through his musical treatments. Dan is paving the way for a new generation of Indigenous artists. Through his perseverance, leadership and example as a creative Entrepreneur leaving a legacy,

“It is an honour for us to celebrate and recognize the journeys, achievements and impact of Indigenous entrepreneurs that contribute to our collective entrepreneurial landscape,” said Sunshine Tenasco, Founder of Pow Wow Pitch. “Congratulations to each of the recipients. You demonstrate entrepreneurial confidence, and your work inspires present and future generations to use entrepreneurship for community impact, cultural preservation, and reclamation.”

“Congratulations to all of the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Award Winners,” said Dale Sturges, National Director for Indigenous Financial Services at RBC. “What a tremendous showcase of Indigenous entrepreneurs leading the way in innovation and creativity.”

“Congratulations to each entrepreneurial leader recognized tonight,” said Debbie Reid, Indigenous Policy Manager at Meta. “We’re honoured to be a part of the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Awards and play a role in supporting innovative Indigenous leaders that embody the true meaning of entrepreneurship to support and uplift their communities.”

“Congratulations to all the incredible inspirational recipients, leaders, and their teams! Indigenous entrepreneurship is a movement, and some of these esteemed award winners are shining examples of a continually evolving age of Indigenous excellence in commerce,” said Kyle St-Amour-Brennan, BUILD Native Indigenous Entrepreneurship Program Manager at Shopify. “We are honoured and thankful to contribute and witness this paradigm shift that rightfully recognizes Indigenous entrepreneurs and their communities from coast to coast to coast in collective empowerment that centers social, environmental, and cultural well-being.”

“Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees of the 2022 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards,” said Todd Evans, National Lead for Indigenous Exporters of Export Development Canada. “Indigenous entrepreneurs bring a lot to their communities as role models and demonstrate what can be done to create prosperity and opportunities for other entrepreneurs, especially younger and would-be entrepreneurs.”

“Congratulations to all of the recipients of the Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses being recognized tonight,” said Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). “ITAC believes strongly in investing in Indigenous entrepreneurs, Indigenous tourism businesses and Indigenous destinations across the country.”

Each of the nine Winners received an Official Pin designed and hand created by Jesse Brant, Co-Founder and Jewelry Design Lead at Sapling & Flint; and a signed limited edition print of the artwork ‘Red Rising‘ by Ojibway Woodland artist from Red Lake, Ontario, which features a plaque with their name and recognition.

To watch the 2022 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, click here.

For further information: For interviews with the winners and partners, email [email protected]

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