Honoring Canada’s First Indigenous Woman to Lead a Commercial Lending Institution

The 2020 Indspire Award for Business and Commerce recognizes the groundbreaking career of Dawn Madahbee Leach — the first Indigenous woman in Canada to head up a commercial lending institution. Madahbee Leach, a former Aundeck Omni Kaning Band Councillor, is also a successful entrepreneur and global speaker who advocates for Indigenous economic development. 

Madahbee Leach and the 10 other Indspire Award winners will be recognized at the 27th Annual Indspire Awards Gala at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, on March 6th. The ceremony will also be broadcast on APTN and CBC on Sunday, June 21st.

Leading Waubetek

Madahbee Leach has served as the general manager for Waubetek Business Development Corporation since its founding in 1988. 

“Waubetek” means “the future” in the Ojibwe language. It’s a fitting name for the Aboriginal-owned and controlled financial institution that provides business services and commercial financing to Aboriginal businesses in a variety of industries and to 27 First Nations across northeastern Ontario.

Through Waubetek, Madahbee Leach has facilitated multi-million dollar investments that have greatly benefitted First Nations, their respective regions and the province of Ontario. Under her leadership, Waubetek has invested upwards of $80 million in 3,600 First Nation businesses who experience a business success rate of 94 percent.

“Supporting the advancement of Indigenous people in the fields of business, finance and economic development is one of the most effective ways to build our capacity to secure the future of our people, our lands, and our rightful place in Canada’s economy,” Madahbee Leach said. 

Empowering Entrepreneurial Endeavors

Madahbee Leach additionally owns Indigenous Business International, a consulting service that builds bridges between corporations and Indigenous people. 

“I think what I’d like to do is make some people understand we have such a growing number of people running Indigenous businesses in Canada,” she told Sam Laskaris, a reporter for Anishinabek News

Madahbee Leach also devotes her focus to multiple boards and corporations, among them: Peace Hills Trust, Niobay Metals and the National Indigenous Economic Development board. 

Committed to fostering greater, global Indigenous economic development, she additionally serves as a frequent speaker at events across Canada and the United States, as well as abroad, in Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. A March speaking engagement will take her to Chile, and she’ll traverse several South Pacific countries later this year to deliver keynote addresses and participate in forum panels. 

Amassing Awards

Madahbee Leach is no stranger to accolades, between her string of awards and those of her husband, National Hockey League retired right winger Reggie Leach, who won the Stanley Cup in 1975 playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Madahbee Leach  was recently named one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), listed as a Trailblazer and Trendsetter in honor of women who are first in their field and who have made a great contribution to Canadian society. She was also a recipient of the Anishnawbek Nation’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the MNP-AFOA Canada Excellence in Aboriginal Leadership Award in 2017. 

The awards circuit also seems par for course in her family. “The first thing that came to my mind was my late aunt Lilian McGregor,” Ms. Madahbee Leach told the Manitoulin Expositor.  “I was so pleased because she’s received the same award a few years back. To me, it’s an honour mainly for that reason.” 

Waubetek Business Development Corporation also issues its own awards, honoring Indigenous role models and the achievements of Aboriginal businesses located in the northeast of Ontario. The 2019 Business Awards Gala took place November 7 at the Casino Rama Resort and Conference Centre at Rama First Nation. “I’m a real proponent of trying to showcase the many trailblazers we have, and we do that at Waubetek through our business awards,” Madahbee Leach told the Manitoulin Expositor. 

Building her Business Acumen

A graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Economic Development Program, Madahbee Leach also studied at York University and earned a degree in political science with a minor in law from Laurentian University. Madahbee Leach gained her initial business experience through operating a small retail outlet in her home community of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation for 12 years and through private consulting with First Nation communities.

“I think of my humble roots and where I started in life, a road that was not always easy and I always wanted to make life easier for others, especially children,” Madahbee Leach has said, acknowledging that work through Waubetek has allowed her to do just that.

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