PHOTO: Sunshine Tenasco Hosting the 2021 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards

Eight Indigenous entrepreneurial leaders recognized for outstanding achievements and impact

November 5, 2021

Mi’kmaq Coalition of Clearwater Seafoods and Jennifer Harper, Cheekbone Beauty, take home top awards

November 4, 2021 | Tonight, Pow Wow Pitch, a non-profit organization supporting and celebrating Indigenous entrepreneurs, announced eight Award Winners from across Turtle Island at the inaugural Indigenous Entrepreneurship Awards, co-presented by RBC, Shopify and Facebook in partnership with Square and Export Development 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 and CEO of Pow Wow Pitch from Kitigan Zibi, QC, hosted the event, which featured a special performance of ‘Remember Me’ by musician Fawn Wood from Plains Cree-Salish Saddle Lake, AB, and eight Award presentations under three categories: Up and Comers, Entrepreneurial Spirit, and Entrepreneurial Icons. 


Destinee Peter, Owner of Tangles from Carry the Kettle First Nation, SK 

Following high school, Destinee Peter enrolled in cosmetology and began working at Tangles Hair and Beauty Salon. After three years, at just 22-years old, Destinee purchased, rebranded and restaffed Tangles as a full-service salon with seven employees serving Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients. Destinee is proud of her community and shares the importance of work ethic, speaks at career fairs, gives haircuts to students in need and shares cosmetology lessons in her community. Destinee also facilitates Matchsticks Indigenous Women Business Mentoring Circle, sits on NACCA’s Indigenous Business Youth Advisory Council and is a sought-after mentor and speaker. 

“I am proud of who I am and where I come from,” said Destinee Peter. “To be able to use my platform to share and teach my culture is important to me. Winning this award validates my hard work in overcoming obstacles, recognizes my team and their commitment and shows us that we are on the right track.”

Gerald James Brandon, Co-Owner of L’Autochtone Taverne Americaine, Haileybury, ON

A ‘60’s scoop survivor’, Gerry experienced homelessness, addiction, and spent time in jail in his teenage years. Yet, he persevered to attain degrees in business, planning, culinary arts and teaching, mentoring young people and at-risk youth throughout his life. Gerry and his wife returned to his childhood community in Northern Ontario to embark on a ‘retirement project’ to bring positive change. Despite facing overt racism, construction and funding setbacks, Gerry opened ‘L’Autochtone Taverne Americaine’ in 2019 as an upmarket urban ‘Bar & Grill.’ Gerry also resurrected a landmark convenience store in Haileybury called ‘Busters Mini Mart’ in February 2021 to help with pandemic travails. Gerry employs 30 staff and has returned more than $500,000 to the community through wages, taxes and local purchases, intending to hand over ownership to the long-term team as a legacy that will continue to enrich the community. Having just turned 60-years-old, Gerry is ‘just getting started’ and shares this award with his wife, co-workers and staff who have weathered the pandemic and remained resilient.

“The best part of the journey is the people,” said Gerry Brandon. “I am proud when I see our team buying their first homes, growing their families, growing as individuals and contributing to their community. This Award is for my spouse, co-workers, and staff in recognition and gratitude for their efforts, patience during the pandemic, and for their commitment to the community.”


Leena Evic, Co-Owner of the Pirurvik Centre, Iqaluit

Leena Evic has been an advocate for the Inuktitut language and culture for as long as she can remember. Leena’s career has included work as an educator, teacher, principal, curriculum developer, and executive management roles in Inuit organizations and governments. Leena founded Pirurvik Centre in 2003 as an Iqaluit-based social enterprise to help rebuild Inuit approaches to teaching and learning and respond to the needs and aspirations of Nunavummiut. Pirurvik means ‘a place of growth’ in Inuktut. In addition to creating and delivering its full-time training programs, Piruvik produces teaching and learning resources both in print and online. Some are geared towards enhancing the skills of Inuktut speakers, while others help Inuit who are not functional to build their skills through Inuktut immersion. 

“I am using entrepreneurship to protect and reclaim Inuit language, culture and identity in our Inuit Nunangat,” said Leena Evic. “I am proud to employ elder professors to work with a passionate team of people with the trust and support of my community.”

Patrick Hunter, Artist from Red Lake, ON

Patrick Hunter has been living the dream and thriving as an artist, graphic designer and entrepreneur for the last eight years. A two-spirit artist, Patrick’s goal is to make people feel good and bring more Indigenous artwork into public places. Through his business, Patrick creates commissioned pieces and large murals and teaches virtual painting classes to support Indigenous artists in expressing their culture through public art. Patrick has made a name for himself with artistic and graphic collaborations with RBC, BMO, EY, West Elm, Staples, and the Chicago Blackhawks and was the first Artist in Residence for Prince’s Trust Canada charity that aids in the reclamation of Indigenous languages.

“My vision is for Indigenous iconography to permeate the mainstream culture in a positive way,” said Patrick Hunter. “Not everyone grows up being proud of their culture, or get to see it in public buildings. To wake up every day and decide what to do with the day is one of the best feelings. Being able to support yourself with your gift and to make life better for others is truly special.”

Tara Audibert, Founder of Moxy Fox Studio and Ni’gweg Collective, NB

Diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and ADHD later in life, Tara Audibert became an entrepreneur to forge her own path. In 2017, Tara started two businesses that restore Wolastoqy and Mi’kmaq languages by working with more than 50 Indigenous elders, artists, voice actors, musicians, game developers and Indigenous creators just starting out. Moxy Fox Studio creates animated films, TV shows, & illustrations for comics and children’s books. The Ni’gweg Collective combines Indigenous Storytelling with digital media in the form of animated stories and digital games. Tara has received many awards for her films and book illustrations; her comic, ‘Lost Innocence,’ was part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission events, and a copy has been placed in the Archives of Canada; and, her new TV show on APTN, which she wrote, directed and produced, called ‘Lil Glooscap and the Legends of Turtle Island,’ is set to air in 2022.

“I am proud of my culture, and I share it with humour, love and a reverence for nature,” said Tara Audibert. “My main goal is to share my Indigenous culture with the rest of the world. I hope my stories will help children bring our lessons into adulthood and make a better world.”

Nicole McLaren, Founder & CEO of Raven Reads, Métis Nation of BC, Kamloops

Nicole McLaren started her entrepreneurial journey as a 9-year-old hosting lemonade stands, and that entrepreneurial spirit has continued as Nicole sets out to be a role model for her daughters. Nicole founded Raven Reads as an Indigenous subscription box, warehouse and fulfillment centre in Kamloops, BC, to raise awareness of Indigenous cultures, experiences, authors and entrepreneurs and invest capital into the Indigenous economy and children’s literacy programs. Since launching in 2017, Raven Reads has more than 3,000 subscribers, invested more than $300,000 into Indigenous businesses and authors, grown to 6 employees, and supported countless Indigenous-owned brands and enterprises to scale. Nicole is also the founder of the Indigenous Women’s Business Network in B.C., a non-profit networking group that promotes the expansion of Indigenous women-owned ventures.

“I want to show Indigenous girls and women that they can scale multi-million dollar businesses with big impact and big exists,” said Nicole McLaren. “Winning this award is a recognition for the blood (cardboard cuts), sweat, and tears I have invested in this entrepreneurial journey and is an important occasion to celebrate how far we have come.”


Jennifer Harper, Co-Founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty

Jennifer Harper has been making a name for Cheekbone Beauty in the beauty industry for several years, gaining popularity after being on the hit CBC show Dragons Den. Throughout her life, Jennifer struggled to accept her Indigenous roots. She was estranged from her Indigenous family for much of her childhood and adult life. However, after learning about her grandmother’s experience in residential schools, she understood how her family was affected by generational trauma. This drove her to understand and overcome her struggle with alcoholism. Through Cheekbone Beauty, Jennifer reimagines beauty products, ensuring they are cruelty-free and starting with raw ingredients – from products to packaging. In addition, Cheekbone Beauty has a scholarship program for Indigenous youth and just released a new product line with SEPHORA. Through Cheekbone Beauty, Jennifer is helping Indigenous youth see themselves in a beauty brand while helping to bring Indigenous values to the beauty industry.

“Cheekbone Beauty would like to be a role model for Indigenous youth, leading with love and being courageously curious,” said Jennifer Harper. “We are proud of the innovation we are working on. The steps we are taking will have lasting effects on the beauty industry. We hope to help provide a place where Indigenous youth can also see their potential in STEM, using Indigenous wisdom and teachings to build better.”

The Mi’kmaq Coalition, NS and NL

The Mi’kmaq Coalition was formed by seven Mi’kmaq communities that worked together on a landmark deal to own 50% of Clearwater Seafoods. The Mi’kmaq have fished the waters of Atlantic Canada for thousands of years, and as owners of Clearwater, Mi’kmaq communities and people are now direct stakeholders to the ownership. The revenue generated through this ownership model supports the communities’ growth, prosperity, and development. The Coalition is working closely with partners at Clearwater Seafoods to indigenize the company as a whole to reflect its Indigenous ownership. The Coalition believes this is a model for Canada and the world. 

“When Indigenous and non-Indigenous businesses meet at the table 50-50, with benefits for both, it puts reconciliation into action and demonstrates the value of working with Indigenous organizations,” said Membertou Chief and CEO Terrance Paul, a respected leader instrumental in creating the deal. “The Clearwater Seafoods acquisition is a transformational and generational deal that is an example of the resilience, value and power of our Mi’kmaq communities.” 

“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 as a tool for community impact, cultural preservation, and reclamation. Thank you for your good work, leading with your hearts and for your example.”

“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 Garrick Tiplady, Vice President and Country Director at Meta in Canada, formerly the Facebook company. “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 from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation & 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.”

Each of tonight’s winners receives professional advisory services from MNP; an Official Pin for Award recipients designed and hand-beaded by artist Vashti Etzel from Kaska Territory, Yukon; and a signed limited edition print of the artwork ‘Joy’ by Metis visual artist and author with roots from Manitou Sakhigan Alberta, Christi Belcourt, which features a plaque with their name and recognition.

To watch the 2021 Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards, click here.