Karen MacKenzie has created her own path as there were few role models
“I feel that I have created my own way. In many ways, life has been an adventure.”
MacKenzie, whose mother, Cora Desjarlais, was a residential school survivor, learned about her Indigenous heritage through her grandmother, despite being told growing up that she was of French descent.
“I was fortunate to visit my grandmother every summer andspend time with aunties and cousins, so I learned many of our stories, but was told not to talk about them. […] My mother did not want us to deal with the shame and racism that prevailed in mainstream society,” MacKenzie recalls.
“[My mother] wanted us to be the best at whatever we did so that people could not put us down. We excelled at school, sports, and other activities,” she says.
“In the meantime, I would be hurt by jokes told about Indigenous people and would either speak up or walk away.”
Going with the flow
A self-proclaimed “air force brat,” MacKenzie became accustomed to adjusting to new situations, places, and people. This flexibility perhaps enabled her to switch tracks in her career – a move she made several times.
After ten years as Chair of Business and Management programs at MacEwan University, MacKenzie “took a self-directed sabbatical and took a step back to my roots, my teachings, and my culture.” MacKenzie started her own consulting firm, interweaving her business practices with her ancestral knowledge and teaching.
Bringing Indigenous knowledge to the fore
In a society that still treats Indigenous knowledge and history as an afterthought, MacKenzie was taking bold, necessary steps to ensure that Indigenous history was brought to the forefront of her career.
“As an Indigenous business owner, I could bring new perspectives and begin to facilitate the development of governance structures that supported diversity and inclusion. I could also support businesses who wanted to work with Indigenous peoples and co-create new ways of working, developing social enterprises, and so on.”
Karen was recently appointed as an “Expert Panel” member for the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation (https://navltd.com/ccpc/#panelists) and as a Senior Advisor to Navigator (https://navltd.com/).
Supporting the community
In addition to her businesses, MacKenzie serves the community by advocating for and supporting Indigenous peoples. MacKenzie serveson the Edmonton Police Commission and the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Safety and Well-Being. Collaboration and different experiences and perspectives are required to transform our society.
MacKenzie looks to where her knowledge and experience could be the most useful and applies herself to the bettering of the experiences of the whole.
“Hold your hands like a triangle, the few at the top make decisions for all of those at the bottom. If we could harness everyone that is present, turn the triangle on it’s side and make a circle – a circle has the capacity to expand and contract, and ask people to step into the circle, where you are invited to express who you are, your ideas, your innovations.
That’s why I’m proud to be a SHEInnovator.”
Karen MacKenzie’s 3 tips for success:
1. Build a diverse network that may ask you to step out of your comfort zone. Take opportunities to meet new people. This may be individuals in different businesses, different departments,different communities, different cultural backgrounds. They may be your biggest supporters.
2. Learn to speak up. Find your voice and use it. Make contributions to projects
3. Don’t be afraid to fail. But learn from your failures. And build resiliency.