For aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders, an experienced contact or mentor can be a critical part of business success.
“There are challenges that come with entrepreneurship in business in Indigenous communities–everything from different taxation structures, property rights frameworks, location and geographical separations that create cost barriers. These barriers are lowered by seeing people and learning from people who have done it before,” says Dr. Scott Rankin, assistant professor at the Bob Gagliardi School of Business and Economics.
Enter the Ch’nook Scholars program. Open to Indigenous business students enrolled full-time at a BC institution (and some in Alberta), Ch’nook Scholars offers a $2,000 scholarship and covers travel expenses to attend events on topics such as leadership, networking, and career planning. This year, four TRU students participated, making TRU the second-largest participant after UBC.
Brittany Thomas, from Witchekan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, says the presentations have been one of the highlights of the program. She moved to Kamloops in 2019 so her partner could complete his law degree at TRU and saw an opportunity to expand her education by transferring credits from her accounting diploma toward a Bachelor of Commerce degree.
“The Ch’nook presentations have all had amazing speakers, and I’ve enjoyed building my networking circle and looking for summer employment with First Nation businesses,” Thomas says.
Jason Cerenzie, a member of the Sucker Creek First Nation in Northern Alberta, echoes Thomas’s comments. Cerenzie is completing his MBA at TRU, largely due to the recommendation of one of his Bachelor of Business Administration professors at Okanagan College.
“The guest speakers go far beyond what you might expect…. Often past scholars themselves, the speakers are passionate about helping ambitious Indigenous peoples connect with employment opportunities during and after they’ve completed their education, or connecting with business start-up information for future entrepreneurs,” Cerenzie says.
“For those who are nervous about networking, this is a great safe space to practise.”
Rankin, who is TRU’s Ch’nook program co-ordinator and also part of the selection committee, encourages students to consider applying. Applications for the 2022/23 intake open in fall 2022. Applications include an essay, proof of enrolment at a BC institution, and a letter of reference. Grades are considered by the selection committee but there is no cut-off.
“We’re looking for students who are committed to their schooling, on a path to completion, and connected to their community,” Rankin says. “This is about building Indigenous networks and skills, and part of that is serving the community they are a part of.”
Scott Rankin, TRU Ch’nook Scholar program co-ordinator