(ANNews) – The managing partner for nation building at a multinational consulting firm says the challenges she faced in the corporate world made her want to serve as a voice of empowerment for young Indigenous women. 

Jolain Foster, who hails from the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en nations in British Columbia, works for Deloitte helping Indigenous communities on the road to self-determination and economic empowerment. 

Foster spoke to Alberta Native News on March 8 — International Women’s Day — detailing her upbringing as the child of a single mother who struggled with the poverty and trauma so many First Nations people experience. 

“She faced a lot of discrimination and stereotypes from employers in entering the workforce,” Foster said of her mother. “It was really, really challenging for her in a small rural community that had huge forestry opportunities, but women weren’t really getting access to that workforce at that time.”

Her mother’s challenges in the workforce were compounded by the fact that she lacked access to child care for Foster and her three siblings. 

“One of the things that I think really helped me is understanding early on in life that I have the right to equal opportunity as everyone else in this country and in this world. I can tell you that culturally and spiritually, I believe that I was given that understanding early on in life by the ancestors,” Foster said. 

“That’s what really led me down this path to prove that we can have it too.” 

She said poverty proved to be a blessing in disguise, because it helped her dedicate her life to improving the quality of life for her people. 

“To be honest, I didn’t really have to fight for opportunities,” Foster confessed. “Sometimes they would come in front of me, but the difference is that I went for them, and didn’t shy away from new opportunities where there were no real answers.” 

This ambition helped her “get past and transcend” the barriers she faced as an Indigenous woman. 

But, as an Indigenous woman, Foster knew she had to be “twice as good as everybody else” for her work to stand out. 

“Unfortunately, in my time, that’s what was necessary to get me here. I’m hoping that for the next generation, it won’t be that difficult,” she added. 

Foster decided to study accounting — a field with little Indigenous reputation. In her class of 500 students at Simon Fraser University (SFU), she was the only First Nations person. 

With little economic support, she had to balance her studies with working part-time, a constraint few of her peers faced. 

After SFU, Foster studied at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), where one of her instructors — not realizing she was Indigenous — attempted to speak about First Nations issues by telling the class about his negative experiences with First Nations people. 

She filed a complaint about her instructor as a means of “standing up for my own rights and standing up for what’s right so that other Indigenous students who came up after me didn’t have to deal with it.” That instructor, Foster said, no longer works at UNBC.

Foster began working at Deloitte in 1996, when there were few other Indigenous people at the firm. 

“At that time, I didn’t see any First Nations women or Indigenous women, or men, in leadership roles or in partner roles that could help mentor me,” she said. 

“That was a real struggle for me because I was trying to build something new. I was trying to build a better understanding of Indigenous clients.”

This experience of “carving new ground at a young age” while “running into wall after wall after wall” was frustrating. 

By the year 2000, she quit Deloitte to do accounting for Indigenous-run businesses and First Nations communities. 

With that experience directly working with her community, she returned to Deloitte with a better ability to help it serve Indigenous clients. 

Foster’s advice to young Indigenous women is “to not be afraid to take chances and to not feel like you have to know exactly what your purpose is before you jump into something.” 

“Something that really helped me in my career is having faith that we’re getting the right guidance, spiritually, and to trust in your gut, to really be true to yourself, and to understand and value the gifts that you’ve been given,” she said. 

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 13, 2024 at 07:39

This item reprinted with permission from   Alberta Native News   Edmonton, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated