2016 IW Winners

Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Fort William First Nation

Kateri Banning-Skaarup

Kateri Banning-Skaarup

A full calendar is the best medicine for Kateri Banning- Skaarup.

Adversity and perseverance best describe the loquacious and energetic co-owner and chief operating officer of Skaarup Construction of Fort William First Nation.

As a child, Skaarup loved drawing and building houses out of any box, big or small, that came into her home, constructing sprawling paper cities that would engulf her bedroom.

It would plant the seed for a future career with husband, Dan Skaarup, in starting their own successful home building business.

As a proud member of the Fort William First Nation, outside Thunder Bay, the mother of two sees herself as a role model to encourage and empower women and young people to children to reach their full potential.

Her inner fire was stoked after surviving an abusive three-year relationship that began at 17 with an addicted boyfriend, her first daughter’s biological father. The arguments and assaults against her were often broken up by the police.

After one particularly violent incident that led to him serving jail time for domestic assault, Skaarup was determined to carve out a better life for herself and young daughter.

She enrolled in Confederation College with the goal of becoming an architect, before switching to mechanical techniques-multiskilling.

“I learned I’d rather be hands-on and in the trades than just sitting at desk.”

There, she met her future husband, Dan, a carpentry student, and began an 11-year relationship that led to the establishment of their small home renovation company in 2005.

Over time, they have evolved into a home builder and have more than 220 projects under their collective belts. With three seasonal employees, they contract out to local trades and source local building materials whenever possible.

“I have the best of both worlds because I run the company and still get to be at the job site.”

On the side, Skaarup runs a home design firm, drafting and selling her blueprints, and is the business development manager with Origin Recruitment and Training, an Aboriginal company with heavy equipment simulators used to introduce people to the trades.

“I truly believe in what we’re doing. They’ve recruited me to try to get women and youth interested in trades. I’m all for reaching your full potential.”

Often at career fairs, she’ll meet teenagers who exhibit all the signs of being in troubled relationships or situations. Rather than lecture them, she’ll pump them up and make them realize their self-worth.

“If you tell someone in a bad situation to get out, they don’t listen. It’s not that easy. So, I start to tell them that they’re awesome and a great person. I feel the best way to help someone is by helping them to see their inner strength.”

Reconciling with her past has been a work in progress.

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from years of abuse, writing and talking about her ordeals is part of her ongoing therapy.

“This is part of my healing process,” said Skaarup, who takes on a full slate of activities outside of work.

She serves as the social planning director for SHIFT, Thunder Bay’s young professional network, participates in numerous fundraising campaigns, and hosts a bi-weekly television show focusing on regional success stories.

Skaarup said she’s best known as a participant and master of ceremonies of powerlifting competitions, including Thunder Bay’s Strongest Man in support of Camp Quality, a charitable organization providing camp experiences to children with cancer.

Keeping her schedule full keeps her from dwelling on negatives.

“That’s exactly why I do these things. The second that I sit, things hit me. I call it the ostrich approach. It’s easier for me to take on a big task or go help somebody else than it is for me to deal with my own issues. Or maybe this is all a part of healing.”

“Everyone has a light and you are put here to let it shine.”

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