Alex Ibbotson – Backcountry Safety Educator, Leadership Coach, Canadian Ranger, Paramedic (Kimberley, British Columbia)
No stranger to the untamed lifestyle, Alex Ibbotson is happiest on her snowmobile, or her dirt bike if it’s summertime.
“I am, right now today, living my dream,” she says. “I get to go out into the wilderness and help spread the wisdom of how to be safe in the backcountry with colleagues with friends and with youth. It doesn’t really get better than that.”
Alex is the owner of Canada Backcountry Services. The company provides training in avalanche safety instruction, first aid, leadership coaching and snowmobile mobility, including female-specific mountain riding skills courses. In addition to her company, Alex is also Offer of the Hunt – Region 4 for the Métis Nation of British Columbia, a board member for the Rocky Mountain Métis Association, a certified Emergency Medical Responder and a Canadian Ranger at 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group.
“I have a natural inclination towards challenging the norm,” she laughs. “So that way of thinking definitely brings hurdles and roadblocks.” Alex values failures as an opportunity for growth. “We all experience despair or self-doubt, but don’t be afraid of the lows,” she says. “They contribute to the success of the journey, and also change the course.”
Changing the course has contributed to Alex’s many successes. Due to the diversity of her career choices—a one-time beer-cart girl and for a while a commissioned sales person—she mentions that, back then, she was completely unaware of gender inequality in the workforce. But, then she states, “I have had many opportunities because I am a Métis woman. There is growing recognition for the value of diversity, which has increased opportunities for Indigenous women. Focusing on the opportunities rather than inequities help me maintain a resilient headspace to overcome adversity.”
She talks about how the Canadian Rangers were huge in helping her obtain success, with opportunities to showcase her backcountry talents and access to real-time training exercises in the field. “The training I experience with the Rangers is unparalleled. It is an honour to be a member of the Rangers and work alongside my colleagues.” Then she mentions working in a male-dominated field, and how challenging it is to progress through the snowmobile industry as a female, when often men do not want to be instructed by a female.
Beyond her day-to-day of backcountry guiding and training, coaching values-based leadership to other women, and hands-on education for youth in the backcountry, nature therapy and education, Alex is currently working on her research for a Masters of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University. She has an interest in cultural integration, transformational behavioural change and social field theory.
With an appreciation for subcultures, having worked as a woman in male-dominated fields, as well as progressing as a snowmobile-based avalanche practitioner in a predominantly ski-based industry, Alex talks about her research as being themed as “cultural integration through relationship building and knowledge sharing to promote diversity.”
“Resilience is essential for success,” Alex shares as a part of her story. “I don’t think, ‘Oh, I made a mistake,’ I think, ‘What can I learn?'”
The Métis Financial Corporation of BC helped Alex achieve her dream. The MFCBC offers financial options and business planning services for Métis businesses in British Columbia.
Jenna White – Jenna’s Nut-Free Dessertery (Fredericton, New Brunswick)
“I wish I had more to show you, but it has been a busy morning.” Jenna points to the display case that still has a selection of tasty-looking treats. Jenna’s restaurant, with its in-house bakery, is located in Fredericton. On a rain day, it is inviting and cheerful, and filled with lively artwork and customers coming in to have brunch of to pick up cakes to bring home to their family and friends.
Food has always been part of Jenna’s life. “My family always made sure there was plenty of it on the table no matter what it was. Growing up, we had a garden so my parents could make sure we had fresh fruit and vegetables, and I did the same thing with my children. I wanted to not only make sure my children had the proper nourishment and real food, I wanted to be able to give everybody real food.”
Jenna started in a local farmers’ market to test the viability of the business to see if there was any interest in the niche market of being a completely nut-free facility. She expanded her product line to include additional natural, preservative-free food to build the wide selection that she currently sells. In addition, Jenna leased a building to house her restaurant and bakery. She has also added food mixes, such as chocolate cake and bannock, to allow those who cannot easily afford to buy baked goods the opportunity to make the products themselves.
Jenna is passionate about food and the importance of keeping it natural. Her motto is fewer ingredients, all the flavour. “Real food, to me, is something that is natural and doesn’t have artificial flavours. It doesn’t have chemicals. It doesn’t have preservatives. It is not meant to sit on your shelves indefinitely. It is something that should be enjoyed when it’s harvested or made. There are also natural ways of preserving things right. That’s why we dry things. That’s why we smoe things, so we can use those techniques and bring it to the masses, then everybody will benefit in the long run.”
Being accessible is very important to Jenna. “I definitely do not think that real food should be kept for just a certain demographic. Everybody deserves to eat real food. Everybody deserves to nourish their bodies. It’s my goal to make sure that real food is available to everybody.” She includes QR codes with her products to provide video tutorials that will either allow people to follow along with the instructions or audibly hear the instructions.
Family, community and culture are fundamental to Jenna. “One thing I do like about owning this business is it is an opportunity for me to share some of my culture and show pride in an area that my family hasn’t been able to in generations, and that warms my heart.” She proudly points out the professional-looking artwork in the restaurant that her children, nieces and nephews made. She also explained that the large wall mural was created by Natalie Sappier of the Tobique First Nation and that it blended her culture with the local culture.
She is grateful for the assistance of Ulnooweg with financing and marketing guidance. Jenna is legally blind and feels that her financial institution’s aid was crucial for her success with this added challenge. “Ulnooweg gave me an opportunity that I wouldn’t have been able to have through a traditional banking system.” Jenna highlights that business plans are essential. In addition to helping to get funding, they help you be true to yourself and your vision.
Jenna feels that her most significant accomplishment was proving to herself how capable she was despite any challenges she has faced. “Being legally blind really throws a curveball at you, especially when you had your eyesight for 33 years. So, for me, having gained back that confidence that I had lost, when I lost some of my independence, has been huge.”
Jenna plans on expanding her business to include flour milling. Through the whole process, she is driven by her love of feeding people. “I love giving people that opportunity to taste something that either brings them back to their childhood or gives them a new experience altogether.”
Learn more about some of the Indigenous women entrepreneurs that the Aboriginal Financial Institution network has supported at nacca.ca.