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Northern Ontario First Nation entrepreneurs shine on the big stage

Inaugural Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards feature winners from Haileybury, Red Lake
Gerald Brandon Pow Wow Pitch Winner
Haileybury entrepreneur Gerald Brandon was one of the two winners from Northern Ontario in the inaugural Indigenous Entrepreneurship Awards (Supplied photo)

Northern Ontario was well-represented in an inaugural nation-wide First Nation awards show.

A '60s Scoop survivor and restaurateur from Haileybury and a thriving artist from Red Lake were among the eight award winners at the Indigenous Entrepreneurship Awards, Nov. 4.

Haileybury's Gerald Brandon, co-owner of L’Autochtone Taverne Americaine was one of two winners in the Up and Comer Award category.

Patrick Hunter, an artist from Red Lake, was one of four Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winners.

The Indigenous Entrepreneur Awards recognize and celebrate excellence and outstanding impact in Indigenous entrepreneurship by recognizing eight entrepreneurial leaders for their perseverance, growth, impact and example.

The event was hosted by Sunshine Tenasco, the event's co-founder and CEO of Pow Wow Pitch, a non-profit organization supporting and celebrating Indigenous entrepreneurs from across Turtle Island.

Brandon, a Dokis First Nation member, experienced homelessness, addiction, and spent time in jail in his teenage years but persevered to attain degrees in business, planning, culinary arts and teaching, mentoring young people and at-risk youth throughout his life. Brandon and his wife returned to his childhood community in Northern Ontario to embark on a ‘retirement project’ to bring positive change.

Despite facing overt racism, construction and funding setbacks, he opened L’Autochtone Taverne Americaine in 2019 as an upmarket urban bar and grill, while also resurrecting a landmark convenience store in Haileybury called Busters Mini Mart last February.

The 60-year-old Brandon employs 30 staff with long-term plans to hand over ownership to his team as a legacy.

“The best part of the journey is the people,” he said in a statement. “I am proud when I see our team buying their first homes, growing their families, growing as individuals and contributing to their community.

This award is for my spouse, co-workers, and staff in recognition and gratitude for their efforts, patience during the pandemic, and for their commitment to the community.”

According to Patrick Hunter's bio, the northwestern Ontario artist, graphic designer and entrepreneur has been "living the dream" for the last eight years. His goal being to bring more Indigenous artwork into public places.

Hunter creates commissioned pieces and large murals and teaches virtual painting classes to support Indigenous artists in expressing their culture through public art.

He's collaborated with RBC, BMO, EY, West Elm, Staples, and the Chicago Blackhawks and was the first Artist in Residence for Prince’s Trust Canada charity that aids in the reclamation of Indigenous languages.

“My vision is for Indigenous iconography to permeate the mainstream culture in a positive way,” said Hunter.

“Not everyone grows up being proud of their culture, or get to see it in public buildings. To wake up every day and decide what to do with the day is one of the best feelings. Being able to support yourself with your gift and to make life better for others is truly special.”

The top awards of the night, the Entrepreneurial Icon winners, went to the Mi’kmaq Coalition of Clearwater Seafoods; a group of seven Atlantic Canada communities that worked together on a landmark deal to own 50 per cent of Clearwater Seafoods; and to Jennifer Harper, co-founder and CEO of Cheekbone Beauty, who overcame personal struggles to reconnect with her Indigenous roots and deliver "cruelty-free" beauty products with raw ingredients.

To watch the show, click here.