Thompson Rivers University

Alum stacks up recognition with scaffolding business

June 3, 2024

TRU alum Nyden Iron-Nighttraveller receiving the Young Aboriginal Entrepreneur Award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

TRU alum Nyden Iron-Nighttraveller (BCom ’20) has been recognized by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (recently rebranded as Canadian Council for Indigenous Business) just three years after starting his scaffolding company.

A journeyman scaffolder, Iron-Nighttraveller founded Amarok Scaffolding in 2021 and accepted the Young Aboriginal Entrepreneur award in 2024. He was also named a finalist for the 2023 Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year through the CanadianSME National Business Awards and Amarok was nominated for a Business Resiliency award from the Bonnyville Chamber of Commerce.

Iron-Nighttraveller is an entrepreneur from Canoe Lake Cree First Nation who lives in Kehewin Cree Nation, near Bonnyville, Alta. His journey hasn’t been straight, nor has it been easy, but his commitment to doing whatever it takes even when it’s hard is key to his success.

“Hopefully, I can inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs to stay the course and understand that there will be more struggles along the way than there are successes. You can have all the motivation and drive in the world to plan a business and to envision it, but it takes discipline to see that through,” he says. “Being able to do the things you have to do on the brutal days when you don’t want to do them — those are probably the most important days.”

Hard work and good timing

With high startup costs, Amarok operated at a loss the first year, but now in fiscal year three, the company anticipates seven-figure revenues.

“I left a full-time job with a family to support to go after a dream — and it’s a good thing I did, because there are tons of opportunities out this way right now,” says the TRU alum, adding that his team of 10 grows to about 40 during spring and fall.

Amarok is Indigenous owned and operated, with a primarily Indigenous workforce. Statistically, Indigenous unemployment rates in Canada are well above that of non-Indigenous people. Iron-Nighttraveller is committed to reducing that number.

His leadership is as much about building community as it is about profit.

“We believe that if you wish to inspire others you must lead by example and break down barriers,” he says.

Being a tradesman wasn’t always part of Iron-Nighttraveller’s plan. As a teen, he was an accomplished basketball player who considered playing college ball. When he found out he was going to be a father at the age of 19, he set aside that idea and decided he had to go to work.

His daughter Nevaeh was born in 2009. To help support her, he followed a childhood dream and signed up for the infantry reserves in the Canadian Armed Forces. Following his stint in the military, on the advice of his mother, Ida, Iron-Nighttraveller enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan. At that time in his life, university wasn’t a good fit.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I felt like I was kind of wasting my time and money,” he says. “I had friends who were working in the oil field at that time and coming home with pretty big paycheques, and there I was trying to make a few hundred bucks a month and be a father. So, I made the choice to leave school and go to work.”

He started in carpentry and then fell into scaffolding. Along the way he met his soon-to-be wife, Pam, and within a year they found out they were expecting a baby. Their son, Khailas, was born in 2015, followed by daughter Kaylani in 2019 and son Karter in 2020. Their wedding is set to take place in July.

Windy road leads back to school

Shortly after Kailas was born, Iron-Nighttraveller took a camp job in Fort McMurray to provide for his family, but he quickly realized he was missing out on his children’s lives by working so far away. It was time to revisit post-secondary education.

“I started to take online classes towards a degree, and I figured business was the way to go because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do — and essentially everything is a business one way or another,” he says.

He started working toward a diploma in business administration through the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, then transferred back to the University of Saskatchewan before deciding that being a broke student was not working for him or his family. When an opportunity arose to return to Alberta to continue his scaffolder apprenticeship, he took it, but this time he had no intention of giving up on his education.

“I opted to return to work while taking online classes and that’s when I transferred to TRU because they had a great program and it was fully online,” he says. “It was very challenging, because I had a young family, a toddler running around. I was working 10-to-12-hour days plus an hour commute each way, and then coming home and doing homework for two to four hours a night, and then going to work the next day. It was quite a journey, but eventually I got it done.”

Iron-Nighttraveller received his BCom degree from TRU in 2020 and, in April, completed his MBA in Indigenous Business Leadership through Simon Fraser University.

Giving back to community

Now well-established as a business-owner, Iron-Nighttraveller is focused on being a good employer and building his community. Amarok sponsors local hockey teams, helps send players to camps, supports the food bank and Breast Cancer Canada with regular donations, and recently went into partnership with climate solution platform, veritree, to support tree-planting efforts in Western Canada.

“As an Indigenous company, the environment and our lands are very important to us. Being able to offset our carbon footprint as a company is important and hopefully other companies follow suit,” he says.

In a short time, Iron-Nighttraveller accepted his latest award, completed a master’s program and will celebrate at his wedding. He has no plans to slow down.

“I’m always looking for opportunities to grow the business or start new ventures,” he says. “I hope that in the long term, we build a great team across Canada and that our rate of employment for Indigenous people keeps increasing.”

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