From a very young age, Jacquelyn Cardinal has been driven by her interests. When she was 13, she began flipping garage sale items on eBay to fund her passion for making films.
In turn, her eBay business gave her the entrepreneurship bug.
“After I got the eBay business going in junior high and high school, I transitioned into getting more into website development and marketing – anything I could do around my interest of making films. It was always a means to an end, but after a while I felt that I had a bit of a knack for it,” Cardinal says.
Fulfillment through community work
Cardinal continued her website development and marketing work throughout University with her first company, Cave Inc, and eventually was able to travel and live in the UK for a time. But with these worldly endeavors, she wondered if she was missing something back home.
“After a while I felt a bit empty. I jokingly blame my parents for that. Growing up they were very socially motivated and involved in the community. My dad’s side of the family has a very strong history in politics. We have two treaty signatories in the family,” she says.
“That was always in the back of my mind: that I needed to be giving back to the community as well.”
Cardinal found herself aligned in this feeling with her brother, Hunter Cardinal, an accomplished actor and artist. Both Cardinal and her brother were feeling “weirdly unfulfilled,” and decided to address this feeling by starting Naheyawin an Indigenous education and outreach company. The company works collaboratively with non-Indigenous as well as Indigenous groups to promote diversity and inclusion using Indigenous-based social technologies.
“Not only was my technology itch being scratched, but I could dabble in entrepreneurship, test myself, and see where I could fit in the world while also giving back to the community and exploring my culture from a place that I always hoped I could, but didn’t always feel able to,” Cardinal explains.
“It was bringing Indigeneity out of my own mind, out of this historicized place. We could take our Indigenous governance principles, our ceremonies, our songs, and really bring them into a contemporary context where most people could actually experience them.”
With Naheyawin, Cardinal has worked with the province of Alberta, installed art by the artist Alex Janvier and held a pipe ceremony in the Legislative Assembly, and worked with the Edmonton Arts Council to develop their 10-year plan, for which they won a writing award.
Educating through artistic endeavors
Cardinal’s passion for Indigenous engagement and education flows into other disciplines as well. Cardinal and Hunter wrote their first play: Lake of the Strangers, which premiered in January and February of 2018 and for which they were awarded the Edmonton Sterling Award for Outstanding New Play. Cardinal and Hunter based the play partly on the work of Wilfred Buck, a Cree astronomer, and his theory of infinity.
“It’s this idea that all our stories are woven into the stars. There are ones that already exist that are made by our ancestors, but there are also ones that we’re supposed to create to face our challenges in our time. This idea of making a new myth was totally mind-blowing to us,” Cardinal explains. Interwoven into the play are accounts from Cree mythology and Cardinal’s family mythology.
“I feel so lucky that I get to do my work in that design space and solve problems, but also create art, which I feel highlights new problems to solve in the future.”
Be who you needed when you were younger
Cardinal’s path to leadership and entrepreneurship has not always been easy. She struggled with the lack of examples of diverse women in leadership positions.
“I do find that on both sides of the family, the mythic figures that they tend to hold up are men. That’s quite common,” Cardinal explains.
“It was only quite recently that I considered myself a member of the community that could provide some leadership, and I think it’s simply because I didn’t have that many examples of women that look like me, who are taking those leadership positions. Getting older I really took up that mantle of ‘Be who you needed when you were younger.’”
Innovation as a part of life
“Innovation from an Indigenous perspective is just life,” Cardinal says.
“Constantly changing, constantly growing. It’s an iterative process, but it’s also cyclical. What is perceived from the outside as innovation is just reaching back to the governance principles of my people and putting them into today’s practices.”
Cardinal truly wants to integrate those governance principles into today’s practices and her work with Naheyawin demonstrates this passion. She believes that the time-tested social technologies of peace, friendship, and understanding through Indigenous relationship building could be some of the most innovative ways to change our perspectives and heal the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Cardinal’s three tips for aspiring entrepreneurs
- Take the advice to "follow your passion" with a grain of salt. Passion is something that can help make the late nights and early mornings a little less painful. But this idea sometimes paralyzes people since not everyone has a passion identified or understands their passion as something that can be leveraged, operationalized, or productized into a business. Instead, seek out a problem that you strongly believe is important to solve, or a need that you strongly believe needs to be met in your community, nation, or the world. It gets you in the mindset of being a problem-solver, which is paramount for any entrepreneur.
- You cannot pour from an empty cup. While the hustle lifestyle is glamorous from the outside, there is nothing cool about working your way towards burnout. Your first priority should always be your own health, which sometimes means putting off that email until after a good nights' sleep, time with friends over a networking function, or delaying a business development meeting in order to take time to unplug, travel, or volunteer. Entrepreneurs who don't follow this rule and haven't experienced burnout are most certainly playing with fire.
- The small things are the big things. Ensuring that your emails are spell-checked, your schedule and documents are in order, and your thank-you cards sent regularly may just seem like small things. But taking care of the details creates trust, respect, and shows that you care. As bumps in the road pop up from time to time, that respect and trust from your clients or customers can allow you the space and time to handle it like the professional you are.