Iskwew Air takes off

Business owner Teara Fraser is really taking off with her latest venture, Iskwew Air. 

Iskwew Air recently began its first regularly scheduled service flying passengers between Qualicum Beach Airport and Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The inaugural scheduled flight from Qualicum was welcomed with traditional blessings upon touch down at YVR on August 17. 

Teara Fraser is the first Indigenous woman to start her own airline, offering charter services to remote Indigenous communities in BC and maintenance services in addition to regularly scheduled flights.  

She chose the name Iskwew which means “woman” in her ancestral Cree Language to celebrate lifting women. It was chosen as an act of reclamation of womanhood, matriarchal leadership and language. 

Iskwew Air isn’t Teara’s first venture in the airline industry. As a pilot, Teara founded an aerial survey company in 2010 called Kisik, which provided specialized aerial image acquisition services and earned her an Indigenous Business Award in 2012.  

Since those early days, Teara has been dedicated to encouraging Indigenous women to advance in aviation, science and technology. She’s encouraged Indigenous women entrepreneurs to support and lift each other up and initiated the Indigenous Lift Collective, to amplify and celebrate Indigenous female led businesses and create network opportunities for these entrepreneurs. 

Driven by leadership and community, during COVID-19 Teara used her airline to help deliver essential goods to Indigenous communities affected by COVID-19. 

She’s also been recognized as one of Business in Vancouver’s 500 most influential business leaders in BC in 2021 and received the WXN Award in 2019 as one of Canada’s Top 100 influential women who are first in their fields and have made a great contribution to Canadian Society. 

Given her impact, it’s no wonder Teara has also been called a real-world Wonder Woman. Teara will soon be featured as a character in an upcoming DC Comics’ graphic novel, titled Wonderful Women of History, sharing stories of real heroes who change the world. 

For more information and to book your next flight within BC, have a look at offerings by Iskwew Air. 

BC Achievement: Elevate Excellence. Share Success. Inspire Change. 

Inspiring hope – Lou-ann Neel

Photo: 2020 Awardee, Lou-ann Neel

Kwagiulth artist, Lou-ann Neel, is the Curator, Indigenous Collections and A/Head of Indigenous Collections and Repatriation Department at the Royal BC Museum. As well, she’s a visual artist –  working with digital art, carving, sewing, and more recently oil painting. She is an arts’ advocate, a community volunteer, and a protector of Indigenous arts. 

BC Achievement had the privilege of speaking with Lou-ann, a recipient of the 2020 Fulmer Award, following the public’s positive reaction to her re-design of the BC flag. It became so popular that The Flag Shop contacted her after getting swamped with requests to buy the flag.  

“Not even remotely close. Was not my intention at all.” Lou-ann answers when asked if she expected this kind of pick up, “I realized this year it was BC’s 150th birthday and because the news of the children’s’ gravesites, we weren’t going to be celebrating. Even non-Indigenous people didn’t want to celebrate. I was so moved by that. If I had any doubts about us having support around us, those fell away really quick.” 

“I had always meant to change the flag so made my own version, and I shared it online a couple of days before BC Day and it got lots of shares. Two weeks later, John Mackie from the Vancouver Sun called and said there was a lot of hoopla around the flag and he did a story. And that’s when it grew. I was doing interviews every day. I just wanted a discussion out of it. The Flag Shop called and asked if I’d be willing to make this a flag and we figured we’d just do a small run of 100 to respond to the attention. And it hasn’t stopped There’s about 300 people on the list waiting to get one!”  

Lou-ann was not afraid to start the conversation about BC’s flag and it’s an approach she takes often in her work. “If I’ve given my all, I’ve got nothing to lose on any front. People fear what they can potentially lose. I was like that at the beginning of my career but then I gained my certainty. Now I’ll just say it.” Advice she received from an elder years ago reminds Lou-ann that she only has to be true to herself first and the rest will flow from there. “Stop giving away your power, that was my biggest lesson. Finding my power in my art.” 

With this certainty grounding her, Lou-ann frequently shares her art on social media. It reflects what’s happening around her and she always seems to be creating something new in response. When asked how art serves her during times of community discomfort such as the recent discovery of the grave sites of Indigenous children in BC, she says art grounds her. “It’s my touchstone and balance. I can process. I’ll take my computer to the beach and go and think and offer some prayers and allow that ocean energy and salt water to cleanse away residue energy off of me.”

“Other times it’s a knee jerk reaction to things that are going on and I think I have to say something. The images are more powerful than text sometimes.”

It’s in times like these that Lou-ann wants her art to bring hope to others. She thinks about one of the first times that she realized her art could be more than just self-reflection and that was in reaction to her digital print entitled “Four Noble Women”. “So many people, especially women, came forward and said this is so powerful and gives them strength for the day. When I can pop things up on social media and make someone’s day, that’s amazing. I want to have that kind of impact on people – supporting other people and feeling the support back, that give and take and balance. That’s just one of the things that art can do.”

In addition to being an artist, Lou-ann feels she is a protector of Indigenous arts, not just through her work on repatriation at the Royal BC Museum, but in advocating for copyrights for Indigenous artists. She’s motivated to do these things with passion because they align with values she learned growing up. “I always wanted to look out for our artists because I was surrounded my whole childhood by artists. It was probably the early potlatches I went to and I saw the care and respect and wearing these beautiful things our artists had created. Why would I not want to wrap myself in that for the rest of my life. It felt like strength, certainty and power.”  

Lou-ann is true to her values and she lives them out through her activism, her art, and her work at the Royal BC Museum. It’s grounded in her certainty. “I am certain, I know who I am. I am Kwagiulth. I have a standing within our system. I have a say. But I also have responsibilities. I usually look at my responsibilities first and do what is expected of me – being a leader and speaking up.”  

Through her oldest sister Sandra, Lou-ann learned if she can recognize the problem, she can find the solution. “There are a lot of people waiting for someone else to step up and be brave and take that first step. I realized very early on in my career that I wasn’t afraid to ask the controversial question.” Her certainty in who she is and where she comes from, is what gives Lou-ann Neel hope and the confidence to speak out and share her ideas with the world. 

BC Achievement: Elevate Excellence. Share Success. Inspire Change. 

The 2021 Mitchell Award of Distinction Recipient Amber Anderson

Amber Anderson catches herself singing as she drives into work each day: “How lucky am I? I can’t wait to get to work. I love the people I work with – it really is about family – it is about our community and how close we are here. It’s incredible to see the people who walk through my doors, who have been broken and it takes a couple of weeks just get them to look you in the eyes and build them up. It takes them awhile to know that we are all family – we all do the same work and we all sit down and have breakfast together.” 

The doors are open and welcoming at Hope Action Values Ethics (HAVE) Culinary Training Society. Since 2007 Amber has successfully led the society – a non-profit, registered charity and social enterprise operating in Vancouver’s DTES. HAVE provides food service job training and work opportunities to all individuals who experience barriers to employment. Amber’s accomplishments at HAVE were recognized with a 2021 Community Award along with the Mitchell Award of Distinction by BC Achievement. Amber was quick to share her thoughts on her team and the importance of this recognition: 

“An award brings credibility and opens the door for new opportunities and improves employee engagement. An award shows we take pride in our work, and we do it well. It helps to inspire others to want to be and do better. By acknowledging excellence in the achievements, you are encouraging more of it to happen in the community. Recognizing the good work being done is setting a standard and inspiring others to follow. I am especially grateful to my amazing team at HAVE. I want to dedicate this award to them. Without all their hard work HAVE would not be what it is today.” 

Using food to help people, to build a community has been part of Amber’s life for more than 20 years. Her distinctive style creates an equal playing field for all who engage with HAVE. Inclusion drives her instruction and her ability to build people up, support and help them defines the intent of the Mitchell Award which signals out those whose leadership empowers others. She is a keen listener who continually asks her students and staff what they need and then encourages them to collaborate with each other to land on the best solution. Her unique and selfless approach involves the full participation of those she leads: “They keep me honest, they keep me inspired, they just make me want to do better!”  

COVID has changed HAVE’s program delivery as it pivoted to provide community meals through its catering arm while pausing the culinary training programs. A peer program has been initiated where individuals unable to work full-time come to work two or three days a week and progressively increase their time at work. Building on the emotional capacity and confidence of her students and seeing them become whole is a marker for Amber of the program’s success and fuels her inspiration. 

Amber continues to have a vision for the future. Her aim is to grow the current programs and develop a stronger connection for seniors. Noting that there are no safe spaces for seniors in the DTES, Amber’s goal is to begin serving breakfast, lunch and dinner while training those seniors who are interested in food services at the same time. The pandemic has revealed seniors are falling between the cracks within this community and Amber is keen to fill that need.  

It is her personal calling and the daily mission of HAVE to “rebuild lives, reconnect families and strengthen its diverse community.” 

Thank you, Amber, for your remarkable leadership and congratulations on your recognition! It’s a privilege for BC Achievement to shine a light on your achievements. 

BC Achievement: Elevate Excellence. Share Success. Inspire Change.