PHOTO: Host, Sunshine Tenasco, at the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards Digital Gala.

Eight Indigenous entrepreneurial leaders recognized for outstanding achievements and impact

Pow Wow Pitch Honors Indigenous Entrepreneurs at 3rd Annual Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards

On November 9, 2023, Pow Wow Pitch, a non-profit organization supporting and celebrating Indigenous entrepreneurs, announced eight Award Winners from across Turtle Island at the 3rd Annual Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, co-presented by RBC, Shopify, 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 eight entrepreneurial leaders for their perseverance, growth, impact and example.

Sunshine Tenasco, Co-Founder of Pow Wow Pitch, hosted the event, which featured a special hoop dance performance by Theland Kicknosway from Walpole Island Bkejwanong Territory, Ontario and eight Award presentations.


Terry Brown, Founder & CEO Okimaw Community and HR Solutions (Winnipeg, MB)

RBC Rising Star Award Winner, presented by Carrie Batt, Vice President of Business Markets at RBC. Watch here.

“I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Pow Wow Pitch organizers, sponsors, and my family for believing in me,” said Co-Founder and CEO, Terry Brown. “Eight years ago I embraced entrepreneurship, seeking autonomy and ownership after a decade of building entities for others. The arrival of my daughter became my greatest inspiration to create a greater future for her and other generations to come. None of this would be possible without my incredible team at Okimaw Community and HR Solutions, their dedication and hard work have been the driving force behind our success.”

Terry Brown, the Founder of Okimaw Community and HR Solutions from Peguis First Nation, has emerged as a transformative force to the standard of Human Resource practices. By combining deep-rooted Indigenous tradition with a drive to grow, Okimaw champions growth and unity. Serving more than 60 Indigenous communities across Canada, Okimaw Community and HR Solutions is investing in giving back in education and employment avenues, attesting to its commitment to community and economic prosperity.

Michelle Bernier, Founder and CEO of Northern Nursing Solutions (Calgary, AB)

RBC Entrepreneurial Icon Award Winner, presented by Carrie Batt, Vice President of Business Markets at RBC. Watch here.

“I stand before you today deeply humbled and grateful to receive this award,” said Founder and CEO, Michelle Bernier. “I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the incredible team at Northern Nursing Solutions, their dedication is the driving force behind our mission success. I am also indebted to my family and community, whose unwavering support and encouragement have been my pillars of strength throughout this journey.”

As a Penticton-based Northern Tutchone woman from Selkirk First Nation who is committed to providing culturally safe and aware services to the healthcare industry, Michelle Bernier is bridging gaps as the Founder and CEO of Northern Nursing Solutions. Northern Nursing Solutions is a woman-led and Indigenous-owned travel nursing agency that provides understaffing and relief solutions to healthcare facilities. Founded in 2017, and incorporated in 2021, Northern Nursing Solutions, supports clients to access more than 300 dedicated and qualified healthcare professionals and has grown to more than $2.4 million in annual revenue. Dedication to serving Indigenous communities and transforming the quality of healthcare, makes Michelle Bernier a most deserving recipient of the RBC Entrepreneurial Icon Award.

Sarain Fox, Activist, Entrepreneur, Broadcaster (Barrie, ON)

Shopify Entrepreneurial Spirit Award Winner, presented by Kyle Brennan Shàwinipinesì, Build Native Program Manager at Shopify. Watch here.

“This means so much to me because it took me decades to be able to claim storytelling as a career path,” said Artist and Entrepreneur, Sarain Fox. “To me the art of storytelling and entrepreneurship started in the world of theater and seeing what could happen when you have the power to tell your own stories. Through my platform at Sarain Fox and my production studio, our goal is to create meaningful representation through all sectors. This award means so much because it not only recognizes recent work over the last few years, but decades worth of work that myself and so many Indigenous people have been doing to create space, meaningful dialogue, and to create activists.”

Sarain Fox, founder of Land Back Studios, is a force to be reckoned with. Hailing from Batchawana First Nation, she is a filmmaker, broadcaster, entrepreneur, storyteller and fierce activist. Her documentary “Inendi” speaks volumes to her storytelling talent and activist flame to ensure Indigenous voices are heard and protected. Sarain’s screen highlights include the award-winning series, RISE (Viceland), Cut-off (Viceland) and APTN’s Future History. Her ability to dive into challenging social and cultural topics has gained Sarain an audience that is as diverse as it is engaged. In every role, Sarain is a staunch advocate, pushing for Indigenous rights and representation.

James Jones, Activist, Dancer, Entrepreneur (Edmonton, AB)

Shopify Entrepreneurial Spirit Award Winner, presented by Kyle Brennan Shàwinipinesì, Build Native Program Manager at Shopify. Watch here.

“I would like to thank my family, sisters, and friends who have been my biggest supporters throughout this process,” said James. “As an Indigenous artist and entrepreneur, I have learned that we belong in these spaces, whether it’s on billboards or in the media, we 100% deserve to be here. Thank you to all of the organizers of this event for this award! My number one call to action to any looking to start their social media journey is to ‘Just giv’er!’”

James Jones, “Notorious Cree” from Tall Cree First Nation, Alberta, is a talented Nêhiyaw (Cree) hoop dancer and fierce activist. Garnering more than four million followers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, he’s been a force on global stages: the Winter Olympics, Coachella, and the Sydney Opera House. Among the Top 5 hoop dancers globally, he’s collaborated with luminaries like K-OS and Snoop Dogg, and shone on “So You Think You Can Dance Canada.” James is an emblem of Indigenous pride, fiercely challenging misconceptions while celebrating and elevating Indigenous heritage. 

Vanessa Gernier, Founder and CEO of Quilts for Survivors (Timmins, ON)

Mastercard Game Changer Award Winner, presented by Jennifer Sloan, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Stakeholder Engagement at Mastercard. Watch here.

“I am honoured to accept this award in recognition for the work being done for Indigenous survivors by survivors,” said Founder and CEO, Vanessa Genier. “I am here today because of my great grandparents and survivors, Emily and David. What started out as a grassroots project quickly became an international way to bring honour, respect, and love to survivors. Thank you to Pow Wow Pitch and Mastercard for honouring Indigenous entrepreneurs. I would also like to thank our many volunteers, our supporters, my first nation, our board, friends, and family.”

Vanessa Genier, Founder of Quilts for Survivors, represents the essence of Missanabie Cree First Nation’s strength and tenacity. Through Vanessa’s visionary leadership, the non-profit has compassionately draped over 3,000 survivors of Residential School and 60’s Scoop Survivors in the warmth of meticulously crafted quilts, symbolizing both solace and recognition. Each quilt, thoughtfully woven with indigenous values, becomes a resilient testament to past adversities and a beacon for collective healing. Vanessa’s initiative is creating a platform for Indigenous cultural education and a call to Truth and Reconciliation. 

Lori Anne Stanger, Co-founder and CEO of FIRE 1 (North Bay, ON)

Mastercard Game Changer Award Winner, presented by Jennifer Sloan, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Stakeholder Engagement at Mastercard. Watch here.

“I am really grateful to be here and I would like to thank all the sponsors and the hardworking team of the Pow Wow Pitch organizers for sharing the message across Turtle Island that entrepreneurship is a possibility for Indigenous peoples,” said Lori. ”It has been a historic fire season and I would like to honour and thank the brave people that are out on the fireline keeping communities safe. I would also like to thank my incredible team at FIRE 1 for their support. Thank you to everyone, migwetch.”

Lori Anne Stanger, from Timiskaming First Nation, has expertly positioned her enterprise in response to the escalating challenges of global wildfires through her organization, FIRE 1. To tackle the devastation caused by rising climates and wildfires, Lori created FIRE 1 to educate and train skilled teams to bring aid to communities. Established in 2013, FIRE 1 boasts a prestigious accreditation from Ontario’s Ministry of NDMNRF, reflecting its commitment to top-tier training in wildfire suppression, mitigation, and prevention. Leading a team of eight specialists, Lori uniquely stands as an Indigenous woman directing essential wildfire training. 

Vanessa Marshall, Founder and CEO of Jack59 Inc. (Edmonton, AB)

EDC Export Award Winner, presented by Todd Evans, National Lead for Indigenous Exporters at Export Development Canada. Watch here.

“I am deeply honoured and humbled to accept the EDC export award for domestic success and global potential,” said Founder and CEO, Vanessa Marshall. “This award holds profound significance for not just myself, but for the broader Indigenous communities and our collective journey towards redefining entrepreneurship and paving the way for future generations.”

Vanessa Marshall, a visionary Métis entrepreneur, brought to life Jack59 Inc. from the heart of Edmonton, Alberta. Inspired by her Indigenous roots and a commitment to sustainable change, Jack59 stands as a testament to Vanessa’s dedication to championing both environmental responsibility and diversity, especially within the LGBTQ2S+ community. Today, with 16 dedicated employees and boasting an annual revenue of over $1.4 million, Jack59 has achieved a BCorp certification and continues to pave a path towards sustainability and recognition for Indigenous brands across Canada. Vanessa’s leadership not only ensures a nurturing environment where women can thrive, but she also passionately bridges the gap between tradition and modernity, proving that businesses can indeed be both impactful and ethical.

Trina Mather-Simard, Founder of Indigenous Experiences & Mādahòkì Farms (Stitsville, ON)

ITAC Tourism Award Winner, presented by Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. Watch here.

“I have lived and operated our organization, Indigenous Experiences, on the traditional unceded algonquin territory for over 25 years,” said Trina. “I am grateful to the organizers of pow wow pitch for this recognition and to all of their sponsors for making it possible. I am incredibly grateful for the strong team and community I have behind me at Indigenous Experiences and Mādahòkì Farm who share this honour, chi miigwetch.”

For over two decades, Trina Mather-Simard has been a formidable force in the Indigenous tourism sector, reshaping Ottawa’s urban landscape with enriched Indigenous culture. Founder of Indigenous Experiences, she innovatively transitioned the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival to a virtual platform during the pandemic, engaging over half a million participants. Her venture, Mādahòkì Farm, is an agritourism hot spot and economic powerhouse on the traditional unceded Algonquin Nation territory that houses multiple forms of traditional programming and protection of endangered Ojibwe spirit horses. Through initiatives like the farm’s Indigenous marketplace, she bolsters local economies, and provides significant employment opportunities. Trina is a cultural ambassador, ensuring authentic Indigenous stories and traditions thrive.

“It is an honour to be celebrating the paths and triumphs of Indigenous entrepreneurs,” said Sunshine Tenasco, Founder of Pow Wow Pitch. “Congratulations to this year’s Indigenous Entrepreneur Award Recipients. Your entrepreneurial spirit is a testament to resilience and strength to reach new heights. You are lighting the path for future generations to tread with confidence and purpose.”

“The Pow Wow Pitch is an incredible showcase of Indigenous trailblazers who are playing a critical role in driving economic growth and social impact with their innovative solutions, resilience and unwavering commitment to success,” said Michael Ferencich, Senior Vice President, Business Financial Services, RBC. “We are proud to put a spotlight on this year’s winners and celebrate their outstanding contributions to Canada’s business and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Through our collaboration with the Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, we will continue to uncover more of these inspiring stories and support the growth and success of Indigenous entrepreneurs.”

“A resounding applause for the exceptional and motivating recipients, visionary leaders, and their outstanding teams! Indigenous entrepreneurship is a dynamic force, and these remarkable award winners are trailblazers in the ever-evolving age of Indigenous excellence in commerce,” celebrated Kyle St-Amour-Brennan, Senior Lead for Indigenous Entrepreneurship at Shopify. “We are honored and grateful to contribute to and witness this transformative wave that rightfully acknowledges Indigenous entrepreneurs and their communities nationwide, fostering collective empowerment that centers social, environmental, and cultural well-being at its core.”

“Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards! All of this year’s competitors demonstrated what it means to lead with creativity, resiliency and innovation,” said Sasha Krstic, President of Mastercard in Canada. “At Mastercard, we’re proud to support opportunities for economic growth, contribute to community building and engage in collaborative partnerships. We know the future is brighter when Indigenous entrepreneurship is recognized, supported and celebrated.”

“Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees of the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards,” said Todd Evans, National Lead for Indigenous Exporters at Export Development Canada. “Indigenous entrepreneurs serve as inspirations and role models in their communities, showcasing the potential for prosperity and paving the way for aspiring entrepreneurs. We take immense pride in standing alongside these trailblazers, recognizing their invaluable contributions and ensuring their visions come to fruition.”

“Congratulations to all of the recipients of the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards and businesses being recognized tonight,” said Keith Henry, President and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). “ITAC believes strongly in supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs and tourism businesses, and we are proud to recognize their outstanding work in taking strides in the tourism industry.”

Each of tonight’s winners receives an Official Pin for Award recipients designed and hand created by Niiostoseraah Thompson, Founder and CEO of Small Feather Empire; and a signed limited edition print of the artwork ‘Ring’ by Chippewa and Potawatomi Artist, Chief Lady Bird from Rama First Nation, which features a plaque with their name and recognition.

To watch the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, click here.

For interviews with the winners or founder of Pow Wow Pitch, please email