In business — her way

Squamish entrepreneurial First Nation women blaze their own trail

When Candace Campo was offered the chance to be the Aboriginal kayak guide for a small tour company in Sechelt, she jumped at the chance.

But almost immediately the administrator and teacher realized that tourism was her calling, and she was starting her own kayaking tour company. She transitioned to full-time operations in 2016, and her company Talaysay Tours now runs mostly walking tours with Indigenous guides in Squamish, Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast.

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“I see a bright future and I absolutely love it,” said Campo.

Campo, is of the Shishalh Nation, while her husband and business partner Larry Campo is of the Squamish Nation.

Candace Campo. - Sandra Thomas

“I think what we have to offer as an Indigenous company is, we literally have a unique guest-host relationship, the First Nation community really honours their role as the host of the land, the host of this community. We share information that travellers and locals are not going to be able to access, because our history, our stories and our culture are still primarily oral.”

On top of sharing local Indigenous culture and stories with guests, Campo also shares her own community values with her staff, many of whom are also relatives. She sees her company as a training ground for young Indigenous youth to learn valuable skills.

“The fact that I’m an Indigenous woman running a business, I see it as an immense responsibility. I think in many ways even though we are an incorporated company, our practices are social enterprise,” said Campo, “I would even go as far as saying that our work environment is tribal.”

Working with family has its challenges, Campo says, such as maintaining professionalism and a line between work and personal lives.

“For the most part I feel that our model really works, and I feel that it’s been a very rewarding experience to be able to work in Indigenous tourism within the community setting. But I also measure the business by one of its key measurements, which is profit.”

Lisa Peterson is another community-minded Squamish Nation entrepreneur.

At 30, she started her second company, Peterson Stoneworks, from the ground up.

She previously ran an events company and a kinder-care program, so a stoneworking company is completely new territory for her, but a challenge that she took on with confidence.

“I always knew I was going to be a business owner. I like the challenge of having to come up with your whole organizational system, how you’re going to do something, to lead a bunch of other people to success.”

Along with her husband, who is a stoneworker, Peterson bought a North Vancouver location in 2015 and spent a year building the work areas and showroom space. She has spent the time since then building relationships, learning everything she can about stone and also earning respect.

“It’s really a man’s world, the construction industry, so I have to be resourceful, know what I’m talking about, and I’ve learned a lot from doing that,” she said. “I find I have to be a lot more stern and have to be more serious, in terms of dealing with different contractors and stuff like that. They assume that I’m probably just a secretary until they actually start talking to me.”

Peterson wants her company to employ Indigenous staff as much as possible, and to pay back the startup help she got from the Aboriginal community by being a strong representative to the larger society, along with other up-and-coming First Nation companies.

“It’s really inspiring, for Aboriginal women and Aboriginal men as well, to see that, after all the residential school stuff, we are helping each other to grow beyond that,” she said. “I definitely want to have a community business, to show the Aboriginal community that all the work that they helped put in towards me and my goals and dreams, that it’s here. Also just be a symbol of the growing strength of the aboriginal community, to see the native bear when they drive by.”

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