(Photo courtesy of Nicole Bourque-Bouchier)
No two days are the same for Nicole Bourque-Bouchier.
Before our 11 a.m. interview, the co-owner and CEO of The Bouchier Group, one of Alberta’s largest Indigenous-owned oilsands contracting companies, had pushed through a full morning and was heading for a packed afternoon.
“I got my kids ready for school, I actually already had a meeting this morning, too,” said Bourque-Bouchier. “And right after this, I have to go on site to one of our oilsands and then head over to a community meeting at Fort McKay.”
Bourque-Bouchier is listed as one of Scotiabank’s 2015 Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, but she is also an active advocate for Indigenous women's economic empowerment. This year, the Mikisew Cree First Nation member received the 2018 Indspire Award for business and commerce.
“It really is validating,” said Bourque-Bouchier. “I feel like I’m paving a path for Indigenous women.”
Finding strength in tragedy
Born in the Northwest Territories, Bourque-Bouchier was raised in Fort McMurray, Alta., the eldest of four girls.
Growing up surrounded by the small community of First Nations and Métis people of Fort Chipewyan kept her rooted in her Indigenous identity. Among her many mentors was her father, who passed down the rich culture of the Mikisew Cree First Nation to her and her three younger sisters.
After the unexpected deaths of her siblings, she found the resilience to push forward, motivated to create a better future for her community.
“I was the last surviving, and instead of wallowing, I decided to keep going and do something better for myself,” said Bourque-Bouchier.
She decided that entrepreneurship held the key. Her time in Fort McMurray — the heart of Canada’s oilsands — inspired her to pave a foundation for women in the construction industry.
Along with her husband, she founded The Bouchier Group. The company has a construction arm, which does everything from building roads to steel fabrication, and a site services arm, which specializes in camp maintenance and logistics. As the Athabasca oilsands grew, The Bouchier Group did, too, ultimately growing from 35 to 1,000 employees.
I was the only female in the room and I’d be addressed as my husband’s assistant.
Bourque-Bouchier pointed out that this success didn’t happen overnight. It took her 14 years of patience and dedication to earn the respect of her industry, learning hands-on, working from the ground up. A novice in the field, she was also navigating the obstacles as an Indigenous woman in a predominantly white, male-dominated construction industry.
“In the early days, I was the silent person in the room,” she said. “People wouldn’t look at me. I was the only female in the room and I’d be addressed as my husband’s assistant.”
Bourque-Bouchier has made serious strides in breaking down gender barriers in the oilsands. But more importantly, she’s been instrumental in making The Bouchier Group a massive success. Under her leadership, the company has become one of Fort McMurray’s largest local contractors, while also maintaining a strong sense of social responsibility.
She is also helping build the next generation of Indigenous women entrepreneurs. Bourque-Bouchier has helped raise more that $3 million to fund local initiatives to empower Indigenous women in the workforce.
“I think that we have a sense of community and a priority to give back to these communities no matter how small or big we are,” said Bourque-Bouchier.
Abigail Murta is a Toronto-based journalist who writes human interest stories focusing on social change, arts and culture. She is a graduate from Ryerson University's School of Journalism, and you'll likely find her out and about listening to a podcast or scouring the city for the next best second-hand treasure.