HELEN BOBIWASH – FCPA, FCMA, CAFM (SUDBURY, ONTARIO)
Challenge is no stopper for Helen Bobiwash, independent accountant, mother and community-builder.
If anything, she says, it has made her more compassionate.
Helen has challenged the boundaries of life-long learning. Beginning her career in accounting, Helen has expanded her knowledge into policy development, research, strategic planning and emergency preparedness planning. As a result, she has been able to help build capacity within Indigenous communities. Her most meaningful reward, she says, is feeling that she can help make a difference.
Spanning a long career of helping communities, Helen reflects on another learning point in her life. Mentioning past finance roles in various organizations, it was when health organizations started requesting her services that she looked at things in a new way. “They need financial advice as much as anyone else. That broadened my perspective. It became more than finances and economic development—you can’t have productive communities without health.”
Based on the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation near Sudbury, Ontario, Helen has been working directly with First Nations and Indigenous not-for-profit organizations for 25 years. As well as supporting all the aspects of community building, she has developed workshop content on Indigenous financial capability.
She also completed research on Indigenous financial capacity, tax filing and Indigenous women entrepreneurship. This research is being used to improve the delivery of services to Indigenous Peoples. She was recently recognized by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario as a Fellow (FCPA) for her outstanding career and exceptional leadership in both business and Indigenous communities.
But, really, she says, she likes to be a bridge—from information to people. This may include coaching on how to read financial reports, how to analyze and determine what may need to change, or what questions need to be asked.
Her Anishinaabe name translates to “She Who Mends Broken Paths.” She continues to search for ways to mend paths and build those bridges. A natural leader and educator, Helen humbly describes herself as having “only scratched the surface” in her knowledge and learning.
KELLIE WUTTUNEE – WUTTUNEE LAW OFFICE (SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN)
Kellie Wuttunee brings force and conviction to any conversation. Her journey has been about facing tough times, and then to just keep on going. “Even in law school,” she recounts, “I wasn’t the student that got selected for things; finding my way through was tough, and then I went completely out on my own into business, right out of law school.”
Wuttunee Law Office, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, offers services in Indigenous Law, Administrative, and even Will and Estate Law. Her personal and professional experiences certainly support her ability to take on all kinds of different work. She mentions she has looked at things in the past, and said to herself, “If I can’t do this, then I’m not doing something right.”
Her steadfast determination shows even in the way she speaks, “You dive in kicking and you either drown or you start kicking your arms and legs until you get there,” and then laughs, “I started kicking!”
With a background in social work, as well as in the legal profession, Kellie talks freely about her observations over the years. “I just wanted to do more,” she says. “I saw how things were going under the Child Welfare Act and decided I wanted to work to help keep kids with their families instead of taking kids away.” So, with her three children in tow, she picked up and moved across the country to pursue further education, ad in her words just “went for it.” “I applied to only one law school,” she recalls, “and I got in!”
“I did a lot of soul searching—about how I wanted to impact my children, my community and, of course, myself. There was no one saying, hey, here is an opportunity for you. I just kept fighting for respect, to not be treated as ‘less than’. And I can talk about that—that is the ‘human’ in all of us, to be able to talk about these things. I get frustrated, but I never victimize myself, regardless of circumstances.” And then she adds, “Given the odds, and where I’ve been, it really makes me believe in choices. I always keep working on myself; as a human being you never stop growing and you never stop learning.”
She begins to talk about Indigenous women, as entrepreneurs, as mothers, as members of a bigger community. “We, as women, need to be more accepting of our accomplishments. It’s okay to be humble, but it’s even more okay to be happy with our accomplishments.”
She chuckles as she talks about running her own business. “No one teaches you how to run a business. In law school, you’re there to learn about law. So, learning how to manage a business, and file management, accounting, all of those things, I had to just learn.” Asking for help and support was a big deal too. “Relying on mentors was important,” she claims. “It’s part of what got me here.”
She refers to a big support in her life, the Saskatchewan Indian Equity Foundation, and says, “They helped me so much in my first two years of business. I am so grateful. Without their help, and the way they do things, I don’t know if I’d still be running my business.”
She has a strong and heartfelt mandate, both in her personal life and in her business. “To grow, and to help other women grow, too. I really just want to help people, that’s all.”
It’s undeniable that, with her fiery spirit and tenacious commitment, she will continue to do just that.
Learn more about some of the Indigenous women entrepreneurs that the Aboriginal Financial Institution network has supported at nacca.ca.