When Tasha Swite introduces herself at the inaugural Indigenous Youth Entrepreneurship Day in Vernon, she says: “I’m a mother. I’m a wife. And I’m a fourth-generation entrepreneur.” Also, the first woman among that long line of self-employed Swites. Tasha Swite is the owner of N’ha-itk, Spirit of the Lake Native Boutique in West Kelowna, and she was one of several people sharing her story of entrepreneurship to help educate and inspire Indigenous high school students Thursday.
“I put my whole life into my business—and I love every minute,” Swite told the students, now three years after taking the leap to open the gift shop that sells everything from intricately beaded earrings to handcrafted-in-BC rabbit fur moccasins. In addition to supporting Indigenous artisans, she says it’s also her way of sharing Syilx culture. Her great-grandfather was a trapper on Swite Mountain, her grandpa ran a horse corral and sold firewood, and her father ran a fruit stand and is now a contractor. “This, now, is my legacy as well.”
Giving Indigenous students from across School District 22 a chance to see themselves in other entrepreneurs was just one of several reasons why the district, along with Community Futures North Okanagan, set up the first Indigenous Youth Entrepreneurship Day, which ran May 5 at the district office.
“One of our wishes is that these students who want to start their own business someday will know that it’s absolutely possible, with hard work,” says Debbie Meyer, career coordinator, School District No. 22. “We also want them to know that they don’t have to do it alone—there are resources in the community to support them. And we wanted them to have that connection with mentors to make it more of a reality for them.”
Twelve students from across the school district attended the event, filled with activities and speakers from the local Indigenous entrepreneur community.
Daniel Drysdale, a 17-year-old Charles Bloom Secondary School student said the day has helped him begin to imagine his dream of running an HVAC business after he graduates.
“I liked hearing about other business owners’ stories, the challenges they’ve been through and how they’ve overcome them.”
Andrea Mack, a 16-year-old Kalamalka Secondary School student, says, “It has been a great learning experience. Now I know that starting a business is probably not going to be a straight line,” and her hands zig and zag to indicate the winding road that is running a small business.
Chase Martin, another Grade 11 student at Charles Bloom has already started a business, Insight Glowing, selling glow sticks and LED rings often sported at raves. What would he take away from the speakers? “That you need to follow your passion if you really want it to go further.”
Overhearing the excitement and imagining among the participants is a welcome response for Kazia Mullin, business services manager at Community Futures North Okanagan, co-organizer of the event.
“Entrepreneurship is really an important skill for any young person to have, whatever path they take It’s using your creativity and problem-solving skills, and we already know that these students come from a culture of creativity and overcoming obstacles, and they’re makers, so it’s a natural fit and we always want to support any opportunity to give young entrepreneurs a great start.”