It was third time lucky for Erica Daniels.
A member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, Daniels is this year’s recipient of the Young Aboriginal Entrepreneur Award, presented annually by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).
It was the third time she had put her name forward for the award, proving once again that persistence pays off.
Daniels, (Cree/Ojibwe), has her own Winnipeg-based media company called Kejic Productions. Kejic is an Ojibwe word meaning The Sky. Daniels believes her company is aptly named as there is no limit to how far one can dream.
Kejic Productions specializes in video production, photography and graphic design services.
“I almost wasn’t going to apply,” she said of the award. But she did because she believed it was her last year of eligibility because she’s turning 30 this summer. Daniels later found out that the cut-off for the youth award is under 35.
Daniels admitted she was disappointed at not having won the award previously.
“It was discouraging for me,” she said. “But the message here is to never give up. I’ve gotten so many rejections. But that didn’t let it stop me from going on.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniels said her business has been booming in the past year.
“People are wanting online content,” she said.
Daniels will be presented with her CCAB award, which comes with a $10,000 prize, at a virtual ceremony scheduled for March 31.
Daniels also recently received a $5,000 grant, funded by the New Relationship Trust, through its Young Entrepreneur Symposium.
With the $15,000, she has been able to hire a pair of Indigenous women on a part-time basis to assist her with her business.
Tara Carpenter, who is Métis, and Desiree Brightnose, a member of Chemawawin Cree Nation in Manitoba, have both been given production positions with the company.
“It’s really important to me,” Daniels said of the fact she is now employing others. “That’s what I’ve been passionate about, giving opportunities to young Indigenous people and young Indigenous women specifically.”
Daniels will also continue to utilize a pair of Indigenous sub-contractors with her business.
“Now there’s a team of us,” she said.
Tabatha Bull, CCAB’s president and CEO, believes Daniels is a worthy recipient of her award.
“It is especially important that we elevate voices like that of Erica Daniels, to make sure Indigenous stories are told by Indigenous people,” Bull said. “Erica not only uses her gifts to share these important stories, but through her work she makes way for more young Indigenous professionals in the media industry and inspires other entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.”
Daniels said CCAB officials were aware that she had also applied for their award the past two years.
“Tabatha told me they had seen my submission every year and that they’ve been watching me,” Daniels said. “They’ve seen my business grow each year.”
Daniels added that Bull told her she was impressed with the fact Kejic Productions is also helping out other young Indigenous people.
“I think one of the things they loved about it was the opportunities I give to youth,” Daniels said.
Daniels herself was looking for some direction when she was a teen.
She had a life-changing moment when she was introduced to Just TV, a program for at-risk Winnipeg youth.
“That’s where I began my journey and got the extensive skills I needed,” Daniels said.
Through Just TV Daniels learned many of the nuances of the broadcast business, including camera work, editing and lighting.
“I was given unlimited opportunities,” she said of the Just TV program, a venture which continues to this day and she often finds herself volunteering for when she can. “It changed my life in so many ways.”
She went on to study in a pair of programs offered through the National Screen Institute, graduating from its IndigiDocs program and its New Indigenous Voices Program.
Daniels also worked as an associate producer for the CBC before launching her business in 2017.
Daniels is hoping others follow her footsteps and pursue their dreams.
“Take advantage of every opportunity you can,” she said. “For young Indigenous people, there’s tons of opportunities for us.”
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com