This week, we spoke to Jacquelyn Cardinal, a woman of many accolades and professional titles, including technologist, entrepreneur, Innovation Growth Council (IGC) member, Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 class of 2018, Esquao Award Winner for Achievement in Business, and a recipient of a SHEInnovates Award from the UN Women’s Global Innovation Coalition for Change.

As the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Naheyawin, the Indigenous owned digital agency working to promote Indigenous prosperity, she bridges Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to foster peace, friendship, and understanding, and helps companies better Treaty relationships and improve their diversity and inclusion. Learn about her journey and what National Day for Truth and Reconciliation means to her.

When did your drive towards entrepreneurship and leadership start?

Like most entrepreneurs, I think I first showed an interest in business as a young kid setting up lemonade stands around my neighborhood, but I think my journey truly began as a teenager. I was a huge film buff and had dreams of becoming a film editor when I grew up, but the equipment I needed to pursue that passion was more expensive than my allowance could cover. I discovered that buying things from garage sales and selling them on eBay was a way I could afford the equipment I wanted, and the better I got at identifying things that would sell better or give me a better margin would result in more time for me to engage with my filmmaking. No matter how my interests shifted as I got older, the principles I learned as a teenaged entrepreneur served me well. 

How did you discover your ‘why’ and the purpose that drives you?

Growing up, my parents were very involved in supporting our communities and leading social change, so I had always assumed that at some point I would discover a unique way that I could give back as well. Once I discovered that I could pursue my love of business and technology and give back to the communities that support me by setting up a business that aimed at solving social problems, I was hooked. It’s an amazing thing to be able to do well and do good.

What does representation mean to you and why is it so important in Edmonton’s innovation community?

Representation is incredibly important to me because I believe I would have found my way into the spaces I work today even earlier had I been able to see entrepreneurs that looked like me and came from communities that my family belongs to. I think that representation is important in the tech and innovation space as a whole because, as Wilfred Buck writes in his book Tipiskawi Kisik: Night Sky Star Stories, “We arrive at knowledge from many different paths… and the more aware we are of other possibilities, the more sensitive we will be to understanding and difference.” Ultimately, different people walking different paths can see so much more together.

Can you share some of the work you’ve been doing through Naheyawin over the last year?

Where do I begin!? It’s really been an incredible year for us. We’ve been very lucky to have worked in a variety of capacities over the last year which primarily centered around education, including offering Indigenous-related education to groups like Theatre Alberta, Servus Credit Union, and the TELUS World of Science. Other projects we’ve contributed to include the national Social R&D training series with Social Innovation Canada, the development of the Rossdale site with The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative, and a podcast episode about Indigenous concepts of science with Sarah Jackson. It’s been a total blast!

What does it mean to be part of the Innovation Growth Council for Innovate Edmonton?

It’s an amazing opportunity to give back to the communities that have supported me in all my endeavors here in Edmonton, not just as an Indigenous entrepreneur but also as an iskwew (woman) and Two-Spirit person as well.

What does National Day for Truth and Reconciliation mean to you? What can the Edmonton ecosystem do to contribute to Reconciliation and healing on September 30th and ongoing?

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an important day for me that, like many others, I’m still trying to understand how to meet. I absolutely believe this is a time for pause and for reflection, but I also believe it’s a time to come together to think about how to move forward in a good way. In true innovation-style, I think the Edmonton ecosystem could contribute to this process by not only pausing, reflecting, and taking action, but also by sharing their learnings along the way.

What inspires you?

The nêhiyawêwin or Cree language. It holds so many teachings in such an elegant form and has lasted for many millennia. It’s truly breathtaking!

If you could share one piece advice with Indigenous entrepreneurs today, what would it be?

Don’t go it alone! Find other entrepreneurs, especially Indigenous entrepreneurs, to surround yourself with. It’s a long, challenging journey and it’s one that’s best done in the company of friends.