Gabrielle Scrimshaw is a Dene woman from Hatchet Lake, a small community in northern Saskatchewan. She grew up in a family with two sisters and her father, a single parent. She knows the challenges that Indigenous people face in Canada and said in her TEDx talk in Toronto, that by all statistics, she should not have been standing on that stage. But Gabrielle has been on many stages and will be presenting the keynote address onstage at the BCSTA AGM on April 26, 2019.
There are many ways you can speak about Gabrielle Scrimshaw – her background, her accomplishments and awards, her travels, her career, her aspirations and her message. And, it is in her stories that you come to see her at her heart’s centre. It is illuminating to touch on all of these areas.
As a young Indigenous girl growing up in northern Saskatchewan, Gabrielle has said she didn’t know her life was different from other young people in Canada. She acknowledges that her family experienced poverty, substance abuse, and suicide, but sadly, this was not an unusual circumstance in her community. And, so she says she enjoyed being in the outdoors, learning about fishing and wildlife, and eating moose meat, all the while thinking this was how all children grew up. At a particularly low time in her life as a youth, though, she remembers when an adult visiting her school told her she was an amazing young woman and that he believed in her. Gabrielle attributes this experience as one that led to her completing high school and being the first person in her community to go on to post secondary education.
In a New York Times Op-Ed, Gabrielle speaks of her mother as one of the many Indigenous people whose life has been broken by the residential school system. As a result of her experience, her mother turned to substances to numb the pain. Gabrielle was taken away from her mother at the age of two. Her own passion for making a difference in Canada’s work on reconciliation is fueled, in part, by her very personal experience. She says she wonders why she didn’t learn more about residential schools in school. She is amazed that there are still many people in Canada who know nothing about the horrors of residential school.
Gabrielle speaks from the heart, but she also uses statistics to describe the situation in Canada. Forty percent of Indigenous people in Canada live in poverty. Indigenous people are eight times more likely to commit suicide. The youth are more likely to drop out of school than to complete successfully. Indigenous people experience eight times the rate of unemployment. When Gabrielle’s nephew Ethan was born in 2006, she says her life changed. She recalls holding Ethan and thinking that she didn’t want him to have to experience the same daunting challenges that she and other Indigenous people in Canada typically face. It became imperative for her to make a difference.
Accomplishments and Awards
Gabrielle Scrimshaw has been named by the Huffington Post as one of three Indigenous people in Canada to watch – and for good reason. Following her graduation at the top of her class at the University of Saskatchewan in 2010, Gabrielle moved to Toronto to work for the Royal Bank of Canada in the graduate leadership program. She went on to study at Stanford and Harvard and has an MBA from the former and is a Kennedy School of Government graduate with an MPA from the latter. Along the way, she co-founded the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, “a membership-based, leadership-focused organization that connects, supports and promotes outstanding leadership within the First Nations, Métis and Inuit community of professionals”.
On the website of the National Speakers Bureau, early honours are outlined. “Gabrielle was selected as a Canadian representative for the G8/G20 MY SUMMITS program in 2010 where she facilitated over 120 international youth delegates. Also, through the program, Gabrielle was chosen as one of four young professionals to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and CEO Summits in Japan as a Voices of the Future delegate. There she discussed foreign policy and international trade with public officials, including Prime Minister Harper, as well as Fortune 500 Chief Executives.”
Gabrielle has been profiled in The Globe and Mail, Forbes, and The New York Times. She is known as an entrepreneur and business woman. She is a regular contributor to the news media and has been called a global thought leader. She has presented addresses across the country and in the United States. She was an Olympic flag bearer. And, she did all this before she turned thirty years old!
Gabrielle travelled to over twenty different countries where she learned about the situation of Indigenous people and their common history. She says this learning made her more interested in finding out, with greater focus, just what the situation is in Canada. She describes the situation in Canada as the best of the worst. In other words, she says, there are some things in Canada that are positive, such as the fact that uniquely in Canada Indigenous people have a legal foothold. She believes that Canadians on the whole are willing to engage. But, she says, it confounds here that we have strong values about equality and yet our Indigenous population continues to be badly treated. Gabrielle has expressed outrage at the injustices Indigenous people face, but chooses to be inspired by the strength and resilience she sees. In an article published by the Harvard Gazette, Scrimshaw she speaks of her travels and what she discovered. “As Indigenous peoples, we’ve faced similar circumstances of being colonized and having governments trying to forcefully remove us and erase our cultures, languages and existence, all of which has led Indigenous peoples to be at the bottom of every social and economic indicator. And, despite all of that, and the efforts of the government to exterminate Indigenous peoples, we’re still here. That’s where my inspiration and my sustaining force now come from.”
Gabrielle Scrimshaw started her career in the graduate leadership program of RBC, the first student without a graduate degree who was accepted into the highly competitive program. At one time in her life she said she wanted to be the CEO of the bank. When questioned by Paul Kennedy from the CBC if she still holds that ambition, she said her goals have shifted and her north star is now guiding her to help Indigenous communities on the road to self-determination and economic independence. She travels across the country and the United States, sharing her message inspiring message.
Following her graduation from Stanford, Gabrielle was interviewed by Native Business Magazine. She shared her plans “to start an investment company for tribal and First Nations businesses and Indigenous entrepreneurs.” She notes statistics about Indigenous people in Canada and the economic implications. By the year 2026, there will be 400,000 Indigenous youth of age to enter the workforce in Canada. In fact, the population skews young with half the Indigenous population being below 27 years old. The population is growing four times faster than the non-Indigenous population. She submits that the cost of doing nothing about the current situation Indigenous people face is $500 billion over the next 25 years.
Scrimshaw sees this as an exciting time and says the tides are changing. She wants to be part of the response to the challenge. In the Native Business Magazine interview, she says “in the last 30 years, we’ve seen a massive economic upswing for Indigenous communities across North America, but it’s a spectrum… On the other side, there are many potential investors who want to help Indigenous communities… I’m still figuring out how those pieces of the puzzle are coming together.” She is enthusiastic about the potential and says she is motivated to work in this space.
Aspirations and Message
Gabrielle says she sometimes asks herself “how the heck she got here” from a trailer park in northern Saskatchewan. She talks about her north star and speaks from the heart. In her interview with Paul Kennedy on CBC, she mentions a colleague who described his ambitions as audacious. She says she dreams big and also has audacious ambitions. She uses stories to make her points, quoted by the CBC as saying “I think when people hear statistics or news reports, it’s hard for them, to connect the issues with their own sphere of influence. My story is a way to connect with others in a more personal way.” In her words to the third annual Vancouver Island University Indigenous Lecture, she talked about a story told to her by an elder. In the story, a young boy travels behind his elder in the snow and says it is easier to walk in his footprints. She asks herself “what are the footprints that I am leaving?” and she suggests others should do the same. She reflects on positive influences in her own life and encourages people to take small actions: mentor young people, offer them hope, encourage them to attend post-secondary school, or to get involved in extra-curricular activities. She reminds Canadians of the values we hold dear: equality and justice. She offers hope and talks about opportunity. She encourages us to have the tough conversations. She says we need to talk about policy, programs, and education. She is clear that education about Indigenous people is essential for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Gabrielle Scrimshaw has a vision of a better life for Ethan and says she will do anything to help make it so.