Past Speakers

Suzette Amaya, Owner Of SAMAYA Entertainment/Producer of ThinkNDN

Suzette Amaya describes herself as “very diverse in talents.”

“I never sleep. I’m nocturnal,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not afraid of doors that don’t open. I thrive for the doors I can push open. I love challenging myself, and with success comes confidence.”

Suzette was born and raised in East Vancouver, BC, and belongs to the GwaSala-Nakwaxda’xw Nation. She is the owner of SAMAYA Entertainment, produces and hosts the radio show ThinkNDN, and works as a support worker with the Bloom Group Service Society in Vancouver. She is also a former Big Brother Canada contestant.

Suzette’s advice to YES delegates is to “not be afraid to follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. Be fearless!”

“There are endless possibilities for Aboriginal youth in business. We are the fastest growing population in Canada. Any young person who wants to follow their dreams is a guaranteed success, and when you become successful you are not only helping yourself, you are helping your people.”

Gabriel Ayala, Musician

Classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala knows the importance of staying true to your roots.

A member of the Yaqui people of southern Arizona, Ayala has recently played for the Pope and at an inaugural ball for the President of the United States, but just as important to him is connecting with Aboriginal communities in the U.S. and Canada.

“You need to remember where you came from,” said Gabriel, who lives a traditional lifestyle and does not drink or do drugs.

Gabriel says the key to success is thinking of yourself as a product: “I think of myself as a corporation instead of just someone in the entertainment industry. This way I am thinking about how to promote myself, how to manage myself, and how to get my product, which is music, out there.”

Gabriel thinks the potential for YES delegates is “endless, as long as they believe in themselves going forward.”

“You define what success means to you, and then go out and attain it. If that means being a billionaire, you go out and make it happen. My definition of success is breaking down stereotypes when it comes to Aboriginal music. The more I find success as a mainstream musician, the more I am reaching my goal.”

Ashley Callingbull, Actor/Everything

Ashley Callingbull is a 23-year-old Cree First Nations woman from the Enoch Cree Nation in the province of Alberta. She is currently enrolled at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in the Television Program.

She is very devoted to her culture and people, and takes pride in her Native Cree heritage, and has shown this through her volunteer work with community elders and First Nations youth.

In June 2010, Ashley placed 2nd Runner Up in the Miss Universe Canada 2010 Pageant. She is the first Cree First Nations Woman to achieve this goal.

Ashley is a motivational speaker and role model for many educational institutions, workshops, conferences and award ceremonies around the globe.

Inez Cook, Owner of Salmon N’ Bannock

Inez Cook is extremely passionate about showcasing traditional First Nations food in a modern way.

Inez is a co-owner of Salmon N’ Bannock, a Vancouver bistro that serves wild local fish, organic and free range meats, bannock and other culinary delights inspired by a variety of First Nations traditions.

“I believe in my product and what I’m doing. It’s an amazing feeling to have all First Nations staff members, and a workplace we come to each day with pride. Our customers are coming here for the experience,” said Inez, who is a member of the Nuxalk First Nation and grew up in Vancouver.

For the YES delegates interested in opening a restaurant, Inez recommends exploring catering first. “You can get creative, do many different things, and there is a lot of money in catering. Make a name for yourself that way, and then you will end up with enough money to open a restaurant.”

Inez recommends young entrepreneurs take advantage of the wealth of resources available to them, including YES.

“YES is a phenomenal opportunity for bright, creative people to come together. It’s an amazing chance to learn and network.”

Chris Coutinho, CEO, Paystar Logistics

Like you, seasoned entrepreneur and company development expert Chris Coutinho has seen the word SUCCESS defined many ways over the years. Is it a definitive financial number ($1,000,000)? Is it when all the “goals” have been met? Or is there a different story to tell?

From selling blue jeans on the black market in Russia as a 17 year old high school student, to the greatest lesson he ever learned from an old Mexican fisherman, to making a million dollars before he was 30 and losing a million after he was 30, Chris will share his experiences with you, and help generate a radically new view of SUCCESS.

Chris Coutinho is CEO of Paystar Logistics, a truly unique logistics company working with outstanding companies like Wal-Mart, FedEX, Kohler, and ROSS Stores. He lectures at UNC and Davidson College, as well as at Entrepreneur Conferences across the US, Canada and Central America – the latest in Costa Rica last month. Paystar is his third company, having helped start and grow Triple A Student Painters to 4,000 employee multi national corporation, and then AvidXchange to one of the fastest growing tech firms in Charlotte, NC.

Adrian Duke, Skyturtle Technologies

Adrian Duke is a young entrepreneur following his dream.

A descendant of the Muscowpetung First Nation, Adrian has attended YES three times as a delegate. He is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Skyturtle Technologies Ltd., a high-tech water slide design firm that specializes in creating water slide roller coasters.

“The potential for young Aboriginal entrepreneurs is growing every single minute. The First Nations way of life has always been close knit, community based and very supportive. The Aboriginal entrepreneurship community is no different,” said Adrian.

He believes the first step for YES delegates towards success is to “speak up and have an open mind.”

“You all have something to meaningful to contribute so put yourself out there, take chances, and try something new. This opportunity is yours to take so give it your all and you will be rewarded.”

And Adrian intends to keep moving forward: “So long as I keep moving and pushing ahead, I am confident that new opportunities and challenges will present themselves, and I will be ready.”

Sarah Erasmus, Erasmus Apparel

Sarah Erasmus has seen her unique northern clothing designs worn all over the world.

The Erasmus Apparel store is based in Sarah’s hometown, Yellowknife, and incorporates northern design elements such as moose, eagles, floatplanes and mines.

“We wanted to create northern themed clothing that you are proud to wear everywhere else,” said Sarah, who is from Ndilo, a community outside Yellowknife, NT, and is a member of Yellowknives Dene and part Hupacasath of the Nuu-cha-nulth First Nation. Her store sells t-shirts, hoodies, accessories, hats and more.

Her advice to YES delegates is to “try things out of your comfort zone.”

“I started out designing one t-shirt in my parent’s basement. I decided to buy the equipment I needed to expand and go for it 100%. Now I have over 30 designs.”

She stresses that teamwork is vital for success: “Anything is doable for YES delegates if they commit to working hard and being a team player. You will not be able to do it by yourself. You will need friends, business partners, and other people to support your vision.”

Terry Goodtrack, CEO, AFOA Canada

Mr. Goodtrack has spent almost twenty years in senior finance and management positions with high profile Aboriginal organizations in Canada. He has demonstrated leadership and made a significant contribution to the field of Aboriginal finance and management, while raising the standards of Aboriginal finance and management practices.

He is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada.    Prior to this position, since 2004, Mr. Goodtrack was the Chief Operating Officer of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, with responsibility for $7 million in operating funds and a $515 million healing fund. His expertise has been critical in assuring that the Foundation met the highest standards for the management of public funds.

Brandi Halls, LUSH North America

Take a beauty enthusiast, cross it with an animal activist and eco-warrior, and you’ve got Brandi Halls, 33, Director of Brand Communications for LUSH North America.

Kicking off her career in the Public Relations department in 2003, the company’s rapid expansion saw Brandi pitching, promoting, planning and attending upward of 60 LUSH openings across North America.

In 2008 Brandi relocated from her hometown in Vancouver, BC to New York, NY to open and lead LUSH’s North American Press Office.

In October 2012, Brandi took on a yet another new challenge with a relocation back to Vancouver, BC as the Director of Brand Communications for LUSH North America.

Today she acts as the company spokesperson and is responsible for leading a dynamic team of brand ambassadors whilst developing and implementing communications strategies to drive the brand forward with an innovative and fresh approach.

Inez Jasper, Musician

Inez is a Sto:lo singer songwriter with powerhouse talent and universal appeal. As one of Canada’s top Aboriginal musicians, her blending of traditional native sounds with a love for contemporary hip hop and R&B, brings the best of her culture to the mainstream world.

Exploding onto the Canadian music scene in 2006 and releasing her hit album Singsoulgirl in 2008, this proud Sto:lo, Ojibway and Metis artist has been featured at myriad high profile events across the country including the 2009 Aboriginal Tourism BC Awards, “Native Rocks” at Winnipeg’s Pyramid Cabaret and a headlining performance at AMP Camp (Canada’s prestigious Aboriginal Music Program), not to mention feature spots on national television programs like “Beyond Words”.

After releasing her solo album, “Singsoulgirl”, Inez took home Best Album Cover, Best New Artist, Best Pop Album and Single of the year for “Breathe f. Magic Touch” at the 2009 Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards in Winnipeg, MB. She was also nominated for a Juno and a Western Canadian Music Award.

Jean LaRose, CEO of Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)

Jean LaRose is a First Nations citizen from the Abenaki First Nation of Odanak. He was raised in Ottawa where he studied Journalism at Algonquin College and obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Social Communication at the University of Ottawa. He later began study for his Masters in Public Administration at L’Ecole Nationale d’Administration Publique.

He was named Chief Executive Officer of APTN in November 2002. The network has moved to a digital, high-definition platform and now employs over 130 people. APTN was one of the host broadcasters for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games and carried over 10 hours per day of Olympic events in English, French and in eight Aboriginal languages.

Mr. LaRose sits on the Board of Directors of the National Screen Institute, the Board of Directors of On-Screen Manitoba and the Nisga’a Commercial Group. He was awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media and Communications in 2011.

Keith Martell, CEO, First Nations Bank of Canada

Keith Martell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for the First Nations Bank of Canada, sees a world of potential for young Aboriginal entrepreneurs.

“There are two things working in their favour. The first is the growing Aboriginal population – Aboriginal youth will be an integral part of the future economy. The second is that the large but aging baby boomer generation is beginning to leave many opportunities open for the next generation to fill.”

Originally from the Waterhen Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Keith has spent his career mastering the financial industry. He uses his experience to the advantage of his bank’s shareholders and organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s important to remember successful entrepreneurs are good at what they do because they enjoy what they do. Too often, I see people going into certain professions solely to make money, and it doesn’t work,” he said.

“Another thing to remember is that no-one can do it all on their own. Figure out what you are skilled at, and then get others to help with your weaknesses.”

Ryan McMahon, Comedian

Ryan McMahon is one of the most dynamic Aboriginal/Native American Comedians working in Canada and the United States today.

He’s one of the FIRST Native graduates of the prestigious Second City Conservatory (Toronto) – the same place where comedians like John Candy, Martin Short, Mike Myers & Eugene Levy studied.

His show is a loose, fast paced, silly but always honest look at society from the perspective of a “Native dude.”

Ryan’s comedy is irreverent and boundry pushing as he focuses his attention on the good, the bad & the ugly of the collision between Indian Country and the mainstream.

Erin Meehan, President, ESS North America Compass Group

Erin Meehan is President of ESS North America, a division of Compass Group Canada, a role she was appointed to in 2010.

In 2002, Erin was appointed President and CEO of ESS Gulf of Mexico, a position she held until 2007. In early 2008, she was named President of ESS Canada. With this appointment came a move from Louisiana to Calgary, Alberta where she resided until 2010.

Erin is currently based at the Canadian headquarters of Compass Group where she leads a diverse team committed to providing vital support and foodservices to remote locations such as offshore oil rigs, coastal logging camps and large projects in the Alberta Oil Sands.

She holds a Bachelors degree in Accounting from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, a Master’s degree in Taxation from the University of Denver and a Master’s of Science degree from Revans University in England. She is also a Certified Public Accountant.

Laura Milliken, Big Soul Productions

Laura J. Milliken is the President and CEO of Toronto-based television and film production company, Big Soul Productions Inc. Originally from Kettle and Stony Point in Southern Ontario, Laura founded the company in 1999 with actress Jennifer Podemski. Together they created and produced many award-winning films and television series, including Moccasin Flats and The Seventh Generation. Laura went on to continue the business as a sole owner and has since created, produced and directed a multitude of productions all with the mandate of advancing the Aboriginal voice and perspective in screen-based media.

Clarence Nyce, CEO, Haisla Business Operations Inc.

Clarence (Khum-miam) is Haisla and belongs to the Blackfish Clan.

Clarence came to Haisla Business Operations Inc. with undergraduate degrees in History and also in Political Science, as well as working on his Masters in Political Philosophy.

He has been employed as a Band Manager, the private corporation of Alcan as the Supervisor Compensation Programs, and with INAC. Prior to HBO Inc., he was also heavily involved with the delivery of capacity building programming.

Miles Richardson, O.C., President of Miles Richardson and Associates

Miles G. Richardson, O.C., is a citizen of the Haida Nation and Canada. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Victoria in 1979. From 1984 to 1996, he served as President of the Haida Nation.

Mr. Richardson was a member of the British Columbia Claims Task Force, which, in June of 1991, made recommendations to the Governments of Canada, British Columbia, and First Nations in BC on a mutually agreed process to conduct treaty negotiations.

In October 1995, Mr. Richardson was nominated by the Summit and appointed as a Commissioner to the BC Treaty Commission.

Mr. Richardson is one of the original members of the David Suzuki Foundation and has been a board member since 1992. In 2007, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Currently, Mr. Richardson owns and operates his Miles Richardson and Associates.

Rochelle Saddleman, 2G Group

Rochelle Saddleman is a member of the Okanagan First Nation,  was born and raised in Vernon, BC and now resides in Prince Rupert, BC.

In 2011, Rochelle earned her Bachelors of Business Administration from the Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC, specializing in Management and Human Resources operations.  With a new dream in mind, Rochelle joined the 2G Group of Companies where she has since become an integral part of the company’s strategic planning and project development team.

Dennis Thomas, Takaya Tours

Dennis Thomas takes pride in being a creative, innovative inspiration to Aboriginal youth.

A member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver, Dennis began working for his community in 2007 as the 2010 Coordinator for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Since then Dennis has pursued business with his Nation and became the Project Manager for Economic Development.

Dennis has attended YES twice, and has won both the regional and national competition.

“I think the sky is the limit for YES delegates,” said Dennis. “From my personal experience attending YES, if you are confident in what you are doing, you will see results. This type of conference can produce CEOs, entrepreneurs and professionals in the business industry.”

Dennis’s advice to YES participants is to “always have an open mind and be creative, because a lot of the YES challenges require ingenuity and thinking outside of the box.”

Event Information

Young Entrepreneurs Symposium (YES) 2017 will be held Monday, November 27 to Thursday, November 30, 2017, at the following location:


Westin Wall Centre, Vancouver Airport
3099 Corvette Way, Richmond, BC
V6X 4K3


Nov 27 – Nov 30, 2017

For more details contact

Matt Cook-Contois

Senior Project Officer