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Providing a voice for her People: MBA grad Tricia Thomas listens and leads

November 21, 2022

Tricia Thomas

Tricia Thomas is a Nov. 2022 graduate of the UVic MBA in Sustainable Innovation. Below, she marks the occasion by sharing some reflections on the program, her journey, and what’s next. 

Interconnectedness on Turtle Island

When Europeans arrived on Turtle Island (North America), they were unable to recognize the advanced economic systems in place between all Indigenous Peoples who lived here. Trade networks were complex and linked the specialized Nations across the continent through overland routes and waterways.

The sustainable interconnections assured benefits for all the diverse communities and preserved the land and cultures over time immemorial. Traditional ways of knowing and being were the opposite of today’s ‘business-for-profit’ model that benefits the select few at the expense of the Earth and its inhabitants.

After seven generations of colonialism, Indigenous people are finally moving away from their history of devastating oppression towards creativity and innovation. I hope to be a role model in this movement. As a Coast Salish woman and a proud member of Halalt (Xeláltxw) First Nation in Hul’qumi’num territory, this November I became the first in my community to graduate with a master’s degree.

Listening, sharing, amplifying

I’m proud to be the owner of the award-winning digital media company Salish Eye Productions, based in Chemainus, B.C. Through videography, photography and design, I provide a voice for my People.

What really prompted me to start my business back in 2014 was that we were losing our Elders at such an astounding rate. In our culture, I’m seen as an observer and witness. My role is to capture events and share them using media and technology tools.

What I witnessed was the innate strength and ability of my People to survive. In 2018, I became an Indigenous entrepreneurship facilitator and program manager for Indigenous Advancement of Cultural Entrepreneurship (I-ACE) with the Gustavson School of Business, guiding and supporting over 100 business start-ups and expansions.

I began serving as an Indigenous relations consultant with organizations wanting to build meaningful relationships with the First Nations in whose territories they live and work. This led naturally into thinking about my own learning, so when the pandemic hit in 2020, I decided an MBA in Sustainable Innovation could provide me with the tools I needed to better serve my people.

Integrating knowledge in the MBA in Sustainable Innovation

Sustainable innovation is inherently Indigenous. Sustainability is in our blood. With the MBA I was able to integrate my Indigenous values throughout every single course and share knowledge about my culture. 

The MBA enhanced and solidified my cross-cultural consultation services between First Nations and non-Indigenous organizations who benefit from my ability to provide business advice, governance experience and communication skills to deepen understanding about the diverse situations in communities.

I’ve also incorporated some of those sustainability teachings into my Salish Eye business. Our team endeavours to attain the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs], strengthen partnerships with other businesses in pursuing SDGs in order to make a difference for Indigenous people around the globe, and support organizations in preserving and stewarding the land, water and air to ensure well-being for all living beings and generations to come. For us, it’s about people over profit. Profit is the by-product of the good we do in the world.

Creating respectful collaboration

My traditional name, Laxelwetstnaat, is from my grandfather’s side from Lyackson. It is a warrior chief name and means ‘good speaker’ in Hul’qumi’num. Having been invited to speak to various organizations and at conferences over the past few years, I love to inspire others with my stories. In 2021, I gave the keynote address at the Deloitte National Executive Services Conference, sharing my perspective on the Truth of how Indigenous people experience colonialism today, and ways to incorporate Reconciliation into business practices.

The good news is that we have a new generation of children who were not subjected to Indian Residential Schools. Young Indigenous entrepreneurs, wise Elders and traditional leaders are ready to show the world the Truth of who our People really are – resilient, caring, and creative human beings.

The first Indigenous MBA student in Sustainable Innovation at UVic, I’ve been honoured to inspire other Indigenous women to join an MBA program. They now see what’s possible. 

I’m the mother of two children, so I want to do my part to create a new paradigm of respectful collaboration between all races and Nations around the globe. Let’s learn from each other. Together let’s build a sustainable economy that empowers and benefits everyone.

—Tricia Thomas, MBA '22. Photo credit: Isaac Jack.