TABA Awards

By Millie Knapp

The Toronto Aboriginal Business Association (TABA) Awards celebrated four Aboriginal entrepreneurs’ accomplishment on March 19 at the Grand Hotel. The awards were given to Ruby Dreger – Lifetime Achievement; Theresa Ducharme – Businesswoman of the Year; Jesse Sargent – Businessman of the Year; and Louise Solomon – Youth Entrepreneur.

Andre Morriseau, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business’s senior manager of Awards and Communications, hosted the 12th annual awards show featuring Derek Miller and his band.

Jimmy Dick, Cree, Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training (MBAET) board member, opened the evening with a song, drumming, and a prayer.

Newsmaker Mayor Rob Ford offered congratulations to the TABA Award winners from the City of Toronto, a co-sponsor of Aboriginal Business Day, the event prior to the TABA Awards.

Aboriginal Business Day and the TABA Awards are presented by Miziwe Biik Development Corporation (MBDC) with support from the City of Toronto, MBAET, Royal Bank of Canada, and Enterprise Toronto. MBAET’s mission is to “promote Aboriginal entrepreneurship and the development of our [Indigenous] economies.”

Glen Murray, MPP for Toronto Centre, Minister of Infrastructure and Minister of Transportation, said the evening’s celebrations honoured 8,000 years of economic development by Native people here on this land.
JP Gladue, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business CEO, Anishinabe, spoke about Indigenous peoples’ wealth that existed on this continent for thousands of years. “We were the power engine of the first economy,” he said.

Indigenous businesses are a market force that Canada will one day recognize for business opportunities. “Today, 36,000 Aboriginal businesses compete in every sector and market. By 2016, the TD Market Report says that the combined income of the businesses will be more than $13 billion, more than the GDP of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland,” said Gladue.

“Business is one of the ways to empower our people,” he concluded as he noted how just that day, CCAB issued a press release announcing its inaugural Aboriginal Economic Development Award. The Membortou First Nation of Nova Scotia will be honoured at a May ceremony in Calgary.

TABA Businesswoman of the Year Award-winner, Theresa Ducharme, 51, Metis-Cree from Manitoba, certified fitness specialist, opens doors to healthy lifestyles for Indigenous communities through the development of fitness classes called Lemon Cree Bounce Fit.

Ducharme noted how fitness combats health problems like diabetes and heart disease in Aboriginal communities. From an analysis of statistics compiled by her company, Ducharme said, “We’ve seen a reverse in diabetes. One of our biggest losers lost over 150 pounds. I’m the one who is inspired by them,” said Ducharme who lives in Etobicoke.

A 4-year-old company, Lemon Cree opened in Montreal. Ducharme devised the certification program to keep up with demand for the classes. Lemon Cree started with one trainer and now has 69 trainers who conduct classes for the Mi’kmaw in New Brunswick and for the Cree in Quebec and Ontario.

Louise Solomon, 28, jewellery designer and owner of Hand of Solomon, was born and raised in Toronto. “The award fuels my fire to bring my art to the next level,” said the TABA Youth Award-winner.

The young Ojibwe artist, from Cape Croker, Ont., sells Hand of Solomon jewellery online at She prices a man’s wolf necklace chain for $800. The description notes how “Anishinabe and the wolf parallel each other in life. Both have a clan system, mate for life, have had their land taken from them and were pushed close to destruction, but are coming back strong and proud.”

Keeping it real is important to Solomon. “It’s not authentic when Dior or Chanel copies Native arts and fashion. They’re not using Native artists. I want to be the artist that brings Native culture to the light instead of people appropriating our culture,” she said.

Solomon works with precious metals and gems like “diamonds and pearls.” A one-week course at MBAET helped her business get started two years ago.

Ruby Dreger, Cree from Chapleau First Nation, has served the Aboriginal community as a human resources manager and as an employment counselor for many years. Dreger, TABA Lifetime Achievement Award-winner, consults as a facilitator for Aboriginal training and essential skills workshops.

Jesse Sargent, 31, manages Adobe Home Building, a residential construction and renovation company. For the TABA Businessman of the Year, 10 years of experience in construction helped start his business which now employees two people. Sargent lives in Toronto and is from the Shuswap First Nation in B.C.

Nancy Martin, MBAET executive director, was “inspired by all the entrepreneurial spirit in the room.” She thanked the event organizers Linda Martin, Vern Vautour, and the staff at MBDC and at the Aboriginal Business Resource Centre for all of their hard work creating the 12th annual awards show.

Derek Miller, the evening’s balladeer, dedicated Someone Call an Angel Down to the women from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory who had selected Wednesday, March 19th as a day of action for a national inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The Tyendinaga women’s protest shut down CN Rail’s main line tracks between Toronto and Montreal since the night before.

Later in the evening, Miller talked about one of his next projects, an American rock and roll album produced with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. From the album, Miller played Fire and Brimstone by Link Wray whose hit Rumble sold over a million copies in 1958.

With “some old-time music,” Miller closed the TABA Awards’ celebration of Aboriginal business development in Toronto. “Good-bye Joe, we gotta go, me oh, my oh.”

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