Meet Indigenous innovators transforming their communities

Hear how Indigenous culture guides these stories of change in this radio special

Posted: May 20, 2019

CEO Lisa Peterson holds her Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award inside the Peterson Stone Works warehouse in North Vancouver. (Alastair Spriggs)

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In 'Renew: Stories of Indigenous innovation,' hosts Duncan McCue and Jamuna Galay-Tamang introduce you to people and projects that are changing the way Indigenous people live, work and play.  54:00

From inventing chewing gum and syringes to preserving languages and playing lacrosse, Indigenous people have always found ways to innovate and solve challenges facing their communities.

In this one-hour radio special, meet Indigenous people making great strides in transforming their communities, whether it be in the arts, business, traditional cuisine or even archaeology. What they all have in common is a strong connection to their cultural heritage and a dedication to building meaningful change.

CBC Radio host Duncan McCue and Jamuna Galay-Tamang host Renew: Stories of Indigenous Innovation, brought to you by students in the Reporting in Indigenous Communities course at UBC's Graduate School of Journalism.


A quest to decolonize archaeology

Sen. Murray Sinclair once said innovation isn't always about creating new things: sometimes it involves looking back to old ways and bringing them forward to new situations.

That's what Karen Rose Thomas is setting out to do as she pursues a career in archeology. She's challenging historical practices and proposing a decolonizataion of the field.

Karen Rose Thomas is completing her masters degree in anthropology. She hopes to become a professor so she can help shape the future of the field. (Hilary Leung/Logan Turner)

"Archaeologists will need to confront that relationship that Indigenous people have with our cultural heritage. I think that's what decolonizing archaeology will be about — making archaeologists uncomfortable and challenging these discourses that don't serve Indigenous communities," the UBC masters student.

Archaeology has historically been a European tradition of travelling to study other people and bringing exotic items back from foreign lands.

Instead, Thomas wants archaeologists to acknowledge the living descendants of people and places that existed before they were visited by Europeans.

She believes the connections present in contemporary Indigenous communities need to be honoured.


"The drive to decolonize academia, decolonize anthropology and decolonize archaeology — I think that's centred around respecting marginalized voices and bringing them to the centre," she said.

Boosting entrepreneurship

Lisa Peterson says that as an Indigenous woman, people assume she's a secretary in her type of business. She's actually the CEO of Peterson Stone Works, a business specializing in custom, hand-crafted marble and granite products. 

"I'm the Mamma Bear of this place. I keep everyone motivated and pushing toward a common goal," she said.

Peterson is one of 500 Squamish Nation members who own a business thanks to the support they received from the Squamish Nation Trust (SNT) — an institution that uses Nation-generated revenue to help members achieve economic independence.

A traditional Squamish welcome pole is seen beneath the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Alastair Spriggs)

In 2013, Peterson and her husband Nicholas Waltz contemplated purchasing 50 per cent of a granite company, but turned it down.

"We decided that we'd be better off to start our own company and be able to brand it as an Aboriginal business," Peterson said. 


Instead, with the help of SNT — including assistance in creating a business plan, multiple grants and enrolling in a provincial program focusing on entrepreneurial skills training — she launched Peterson Stone Works in 2015.

The 30-year-old CEO has achieved great success with a revenue of $1.3 million per year. She plans to mentor younger entrepreneurs to help reach their goals.

"It's important to inspire the upcoming Indigenous youth, because they are the ones who will keep implementing change in our community," she said.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear more stories about Indigenous innovation.

With files from CBC Vancouver.