2015 IW Winners

Batchewana | Aboriginal Leadership

Karen Bird

Karen Bird

After graduating from Trent University with a BA Hons in Native Studies and Diploma in Native Management and Economic Development, Karen Bird started her 10 year banking career in branch management, moving to personal lending and finally resting in business banking. In 2001, Bird returned to Sault Ste. Marie with a dedicated focus in the Women Entrepreneurs and Aboriginal Banking markets. Bird was instrumental in building an internal Aboriginal employee group that promoted transferring knowledge and skill and cultural awareness. She facilitated many workshops for executives and others saying, “It was a passion to educate corporate Canada to become more realistic and aware of what it means to do business with Aboriginal people”. Bird was also a founding member of the Women in Business Breakfast in Sault Ste. Marie, a joint effort with the SSM Chamber of Commerce now running over 10 years strong.

Next, Bird took on a role in an accounting firm as part of an audit team transitioning to consulting. For a time, she worked in a remote First Nation community assisting with financial difficulty recovery. She also worked with other First Nation communities on business plans, feasibility studies and other economic growth targeted projects. Again, Bird focused on cultural awareness by creating and facilitating a national training web ex session for Partners and other leaders. It was also during this time she acquired her Project Management Professional Designation. Bird also participated in the Canadian Youth Business Foundation Mentor Program (CYBF) and worked with a young woman who opened an “eat clean café that promotes healthy lifestyle choices” who later went on to win the 2010 CYBF People’s Choice Award Young Entrepreneur Business Award.

Several years later, Bird went to work for her own community in the Batchewana First Nation (BFN) housing department. Working at home changes your perspective, “You get a firsthand sense of the overwhelming workload and responsibility First Nations’ have. We have to be the federal government, the provincial government and the municipal government all at once, while still being steadfast in who we are as Anishnaabe people”.

Currently, as Renewable Energy Director for Batchewana, Bird is responsible for helping to negotiate some of largest wind farm partnerships in Ontario and several solar projects the community is taking on. BFN is a full commercial partner with Capstone Infrastructure Corp. on the 25-megawatt Chi-Wiikwedong Goulais Wind Farm located just north of the community and is a full commercial partner with BluEarth Renewables on the 60 megawatt Bow Lake Wind Farm currently under construction located approximately 80 kilometres north of the community. With six years of experience and good working relationships with its partners, BFN’s long-term goal is to establish renewable energy as a new industry within the community and expand its presence as a First Nation leader.

As a community member and mother of four, Bird sat for a term on Chief and Council and was president of Batchewana Band Industries Ltd. for five years, the corporation that operates the industrial park located on reserve. She also owns a consulting company assisting First Nation entrepreneurs with their dreams of becoming business owners. Bird utilizes her years of varied business experiences to help entrepreneurs get started. “Together we develop a business plan that they can speak to and then I walk them through to the point of financing. Once they have approved access to capital, I step away and watch them do what they do best and succeed.” To date, four more successful First Nation entrepreneurs now thrive. “This is my way of sharing what I’ve learned and giving back for the opportunities that have provided for me.” Her most recent venture is starting a Foundation, Nakehndan – Knowing Your Truth, that supports sexual abuse survivors and their families heal as a unit. [email protected]

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