Taking space – and making space

When Suzanne Carrière was first appointed a citizenship judge with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, she was touted as the first Métis person to serve in the role.

“I was a bit annoyed when I first got that tagline,” Carrière said during a panel discussion on Indigenous women leaders at Forward Summit West. “It felt a bit performative.”

Sine her appointment, Carrière has welcomed more than 110,000 new citizens to Canada. Along the way, she learned to embrace the tagline that once rankled her.

“If you’re going to call me that, you better be prepared for me to bring my Métis self to everything I do,” Carrière said.

Being the first person to do something always comes with added pressure and scrutiny, Carrière said. She took a two-pronged approach as an Indigenous woman leader: taking space and making space.

First, she embraced her role as the first Métis citizenship judge.

“Over time, I found my voice,” Carrière said – and that allowed her to start making space for others like her by serving as a mentor.

Bobbie Racette, CEO of Virtual Gurus, knows what it’s like to be the first to do something. She was the first Indigenous woman to close a Series A venture funding round for her tech startup – and she’s on pace to become the first Indigenous woman to close a Series B round.

“Before, I struggled to find one investor, but now I have them knocking on my door,” Racette said.

Since Racette first found success as an Indigenous tech entrepreneur, she’s seen other Indigenous-led tech firms become more savvy about measuring their KPIs to attract investors. She welcomed the opportunity to mentor others – and has come to embrace her identity as a queer Indigenous woman thriving in the tech space.

“Don’t be afraid to live your story,” Racette said.

At the start of her career, Amanda Roberts worked in a feedlot. She later became the first Indigenous woman to work as a heavy duty mechanic for Suncor. Now, she’s Suncor’s SCM manager.

Roberts said never dreamed she’d work in a corporate role – but her tenacity led her to new opportunities she hadn’t anticipated earlier in her career.

“Don’t quit on yourself,” she said. “You can quit your job, quit a relationship, quit anything that isn’t working for you – but don’t quit on yourself.”

Forward Summit West took place in Calgary from May 17-18, hosted on Tsuut’ina Nation territory. The annual conference features panel discussions on economic reconciliation for Indigenous communities. MLT Aikins lawyers Billie Fortier and Bob Black both spoke at this year’s event. MLT Aikins was pleased to be an exhibitor at Forward Summit West.