Karen Dunstan, G.J. Elliot Aboriginal Student Award recipient, makes an impact on her community
As economic development manager for Lytton First Nation in British Columbia, Karen Dunstan wasn’t achieving the results she wanted in her role and was questioning if she had the capability to lead with impact.
Decades earlier, a high-school instructor told her she wasn’t smart enough to pursue her dream career. Despite more than 25 years of diverse experience working with First Nations in various organizations, raising two children and managing the family farm, that instructor’s comment stuck with Dunstan.
“I used to think my ideas were not valued, that I did not have anything to offer,” she said.
A Life Changing Gift
Dunstan sought to gain the skills and confidence she needed through the Ch’nook Aboriginal Management Program (AMP). A five-month program at the UBC Sauder School of Business, AMP integrates business fundamentals with practical experience and leadership development customized with specific Aboriginal content.
But Dunstan couldn’t afford tuition.
“I couldn’t afford the cost of the program and the band could not sponsor me,” she said. “I was ready to give up.”
Thanks to a generous gift from UBC Sauder alumna Jeanne Elliot, she was awarded the G.J. Elliot Aboriginal Student Award. That put AMP within reach.
“Jeanne Elliot’s generosity and kind heart were unbelievable” Dunstan said. “There needs to be more people out there making a difference in people’s lives to help them gain an education.”
Dunstan credits AMP with introducing her to different perspectives and leadership styles, and boosting her confidence.
“I was put in a small group to work with people—mainly from an urban setting—and it was very eye opening,” she said. “I sat and listened as they provided feedback talking over one another. They took offense to my quietness and told me I needed to be assertive, to speak up and voice my thoughts and ideas. Where I come from, we don’t interrupt or talk over anyone. It’s considered rude. They didn’t understand that I couldn’t bring myself to jump in.”
Finding Sustainable Solutions
AMP also helped Dunstan add more depth to her business toolkit and gain a better understanding of what it takes to create employment and business opportunities in her community, which has struggled economically since its sawmill closed in 2007.
“We can go after project funding—which is a short-term solution—or we can work on long-term business and land use planning for economic and commercial development,” she said.
“We need to build a strong foundation, and encourage members to build their capacity so they’re employable wherever they go.”
Just the Beginning
Now, the AMP – and the generous gift that enabled her to attend – has empowered Dunstan.“Knowledge is power,” she said. “The more knowledge you have of business or whatever field you choose, the more opportunities you will have to help your community.”
Looking ahead, Dunstan wants to pursue a certificate in project management and contemplates a move to an urban setting one day.
“I’m 51 and I’m realizing that I am smart,” she said.
“I want to be a better person, to be a role model and lead the way for the younger generation. I want to motivate young people to believe in themselves and go after their dreams. If you want to be successful in life, you need to work hard and never give up on yourself. Just go for it and don’t let anyone stop you.”