'I'm here to show you that you can do it': Kendal Netmaker looks to inspire Indigenous youth
Founder of Saskatoon-based clothing company named Future 40 recipient in 2013
The difference a friend's family made in Kendal Netmaker's life when they paid for him to take part in sports as a child has motivated him to help children across Saskatchewan today.
Netmaker created and continues to run Neechie Gear — a Saskatoon athletic clothing company which donates five per cent of its profits every year to help kids participate in sports.
Neechie, Netmaker explained, is slang in the Plains Cree language for "friend" — a name chosen to honour his best friend in Grade 5 whose family helped make it possible for him to play soccer.
At the time, Netmaker and his family were living on Sweetgrass First Nation, and couldn't afford the sports that he and his three younger sisters wanted to play.
That's where his friend's family came in.
"They paid for my fees. They drove me to games and practices."
By the time Netmaker was in Grade 7, his friend's family had given his family a 1986 Crown Victoria that allowed him and his three younger sisters to all take part in sports.
Netmaker said it wasn't until he was older that he truly realized what his friend's family had done for him.
"When you're 10 years old, you don't understand that. So when I was becoming a young adult, I started to realize the impact this family had on me and how different my life could have been. And I was just so grateful for that."
So as he finished his education degree at the University of Saskatchewan, Netmaker wanted to create a company with a social mission that would help kids in situations like his growing up.
Being a fan of sports apparel himself, starting Neechie Gear was a natural step.
"It's beyond just wearing a cool T-shirt. There's a message behind it. There's a message of friendship. There's a message of supporting youth through sport."
'Change it when you're older'
As Netmaker began his business, he donated his time to kids in sports as well, coaching four volleyball teams.
"To see that and be part of those kids' lives and watch them go through what you tried to help create for them, that to me – watching other people succeed, that's what makes me really happy."
As Netmaker's business and personal life limited the time he could give to coaching, he turned to other charities that could support his goal, like KidSport.
Now 30, along with dedicating time to his wife and two children, Netmaker continues to grow Neechie Gear's online store and focus on custom orders, and has become a virtual mentor to entrepreneurs after launching Netmaker Academy.
He also travels as a motivational speaker, with some engagements bringing him to First Nations to speak to children who are growing up in circumstances similar to what he experienced growing up.
He said he often shares with them something his late grandmother used to tell his mom: "If you don't like how things are right now, you can change it when you're older."
He said he hopes his story can inspire others.
"I'm here to show you that you can do it. Whatever it is you want to achieve, you can get out there and make things happen."
Future 40 a way to open doors
In 2013, when he was named to the CBC Future 40 list — recognizing people across Saskatchewan under the age of 40 who make a difference in the province — Netmaker said he looked at the other names and couldn't believe the group he was part of.
It is a recognition, Netmaker said, that still helps him today.
"It creates connections with every new place that I go to. If I go to a new province to speak and they hear that I'm a Future 40 recipient, it opens doors that maybe would be harder to open if you didn't have that on your resume."
For others who are considering nominating someone for a Future 40 award, Netmaker recommends taking the risk.
"You don't know what one application, what one award can do for your life."