Be brave enough to follow your heart

August 24, 2023

Empowering Indigenous Youth: The Vision Behind Wabshkaa Animkii Benesii

As the Founder-Director of Wabshkaa Animkii Benesii (The WAB After-School program), Esther Maud’s journey is not just about business growth – it’s a mission driven by the heart. Esther hails from Skownan First Nation but has dug her roots for her after-school program in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she is filling the gap in cultural learning in her community.

“I started because I saw an urgent need for extra programming, specifically Indigenous programming and support for the children and families,” Esther shares. Moved by the pressing challenges surrounding the children, including her own, she decided to step in, ensuring they didn’t succumb to the pervasive negative influences.

Wabshkaa Animkii Benesii is not just any after-school program. With a strong emphasis on land-based teachings, culture, and Indigenous traditions, Esther and her team of five are filling a critical gap in Thunder Bay. By tailoring the program to the interests and needs of the children, they have fostered a space of trust and safety. Esther proudly reports, “People would be surprised at how much children have not ever heard of ceremony, medicines, traditional items. But because of what we bring to the program, they have had the opportunity to learn about this beautiful good life.”

While the entrepreneurship journey is full of highs and lows, Esther’s most significant reward is tangible and heartwarming. “The most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur is seeing and hearing the children’s laughter. I live for breaking the cycles of intergenerational trauma.”

However, like any visionary, she faces her share of challenges. From securing long-term funding to convincing people to believe in her dream and the need for a permanent space, Esther continues to push forward. She considers the Pow Wow Pitch not just an opportunity for funds but a platform to grow and be challenged, remarking, “I have been lured out of my comfort zone with doing the 60-second pitches. I never thought I could talk that fast, but it has taught me how to be patient and just be myself with how I speak and share my dreams and goals.”

Taking advice from her mentors, Emily Kovacs and Kaitlyn Amell from RBC, she has learned the importance of speaking from the heart and the surprising significance of numbers in showcasing the program’s success.

On Indigenous approaches to entrepreneurship, Esther feels a sense of pride and empowerment. “It’s been empowering to connect with other Indigenous entrepreneurs. It makes me happy to be showing my children and grandchild what I have been able to do. And hoping this lives on to them with whatever they desire to be.”

For Esther, the biggest lesson learned as an entrepreneur is her own bravery. She states, “I have learnt how brave I am to take this big leap of faith.” She emphasizes the importance of this courage for future Indigenous entrepreneurs, advising, “When you feel in your heart this is truly what you want to do, just do it. Don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t or shouldn’t. Follow your heart, and thrive for the skies.”

Through her vision and determination, Esther Maud is not just building a business; she’s creating a legacy.

Register to watch Esther pitch at the Non-Profit Semi-Final Online Watch Party on September 11, 2023, at 6 PM ET and vote for Esther to win the 2023 People’s Choice Prize (#23) before September 17, 2023.