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Pilot project provides business training for First Nations community

Posted on September 24, 2020
Christina Tachtampa and Jonathon Araujo Redbird of Redbird Circle.
Christina Tachtampa and Jonathon Araujo Redbird of Redbird Circle.

Kingston, Ont. – A Smith School of Business initiative that launched on Monday will bring online business training to a First Nations community in British Columbia. Thirty-five members of the Xeni Gwet’in community will take part in the 12-week program to earn a Certificate of Completion in Administration and Business Management through the Centre for Business Venturing at Smith.

The pilot program will see participants work on projects that align with their community’s strategic plan. They will learn project management and strategic thinking skills that can be applied to areas of need within their community. 

The program is led by Jonathon Araujo Redbird and Christina Tachtampa of Redbird Circle, an educational training and consulting company with an Indigenous focus. Both Redbird and Tachtampa are graduates this year of the Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) program at Smith. Redbird Circle was their capstone project.

This will be the first time the pair has a chance to deliver their customized educational content to a First Nations audience, teaching alongside a handful of MMIE instructors and advisers. Each module will also feature Indigenous speakers sharing their own perspectives and experiences, an approach the pair believe is critical to holistic learning. 

“It’s the medicine wheel,” explains Redbird, who is of European and Anishinaabe (Odawa Ojibwa) ancestry from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, of their educational approach. “It’s a four-dimensional framework that is basically teaching people how to come back to balance. Before we get into teaching about bookkeeping or marketing, we need to be able to start at the core. How do we bring the business world, our dominant culture… how do we swing the pendulum back to Indigenous values and philosophies, merging the two to create an elevated humanity?” 

“How do you develop that balance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing?” adds Tachtampa, who came to Canada from Greece. “What is the true meaning of reconciliation and building trust? That is a piece of our partnership that works well, balancing western and Indigenous world views.” 

The program got its start thanks to a summer internship grant from the federal government that funded three students, including Tachtampa, to work with the Xeni Gwet’in community, a member of the Tsilqhot’in (Chilcotin) First Nation, in order to help it identify strategic priorities.

Shari Hughson, director of the MMIE program, who already had an established working relationship with the community of 450, recognized the opportunity. One of the projects that emerged was a proposal for the certificate program, which has since received $70,000 in funding from the B.C. government. “Each student will have a practical project that they will work through over the three months of the program, to move them forward,” explains Hughson. “It is our hope that they will then be able to secure funding to keep the project going.”

“It is a program that will provide workforce development and entrepreneurial training,” adds JP Shearer, the partnership lead for Smith who is involved both as an adviser to the MMIE program and as the associate director of the Centre for Business Venturing. “It will give participants a chance to learn new skills through immersive learning experiences that can be immediately applied to their career search, job or even start their own ventures and to think like entrepreneurs… and then eventually to become self-sufficient in generating their own revenue. It is an exciting prospect.”