Teara Fraser, Iskwew Air CEO, has been named a Women’s Executive Network (WXN) 2019 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner.
“All winners exemplify power not through their standing or abilities, but rather through how they inspire, champion and empower others — which is why it’s very important to recognize and celebrate their great achievements,” said Sherri Stevens, CEO of WXN.
Named in the Trailblazers and Trendsetters Award category, Teara is recognized as a woman breaking new ground with landmark achievements forging pathways for future generations and making a great contribution to Canadian society.
“It fills my heart with gratitude to be honored alongside such amazing changemakers. I am humbled and inspired by the matriarchs in my world — blessed to witness and learn from their incredible stories of strength, wisdom, Warriorship, resilience, courage, humanness, hope and love,” Fraser said.
Fraser’s entrepreneurial story stretches back to 2001, when becoming a pilot was a mere idea. “I flew in a small plane for the first time on a flight over the Okavango Delta in Botswana,” she told Native Business. As the pilot banked the aircraft, she thought, “That would be the coolest job!”
After flying for some regional airlines, Fraser decided that the usual measure of success for a pilot — “The bigger the bird the better” — wasn’t for her.
“I wanted to continue to work toward a leadership role within the industry,” she said. “That’s how I came to realize that I was an entrepreneur.”
Owning her own firm also allows Fraser to build a business based on her own Indigenous values, including leadership.
In 2010, Fraser moved on to start her own firm, KÎSIK Aerial Survey Inc. (KÎSIK is a Cree word for sky and eye). “I had expertise in aerial surveying and I enjoyed it,” she said.
After building KÎSIK “from the ground up,” she sold the firm in 2016. That first foray into entrepreneurship in aviation, where Fraser also served as accountable executive, operations manager, chief pilot and personal responsible for maintenance, paved the way for her new venture — Iskwew Air.
The airline’s name, Iskwew (pronounced ISS-KWAY-YO), the Cree word for woman, signifies Iskwew’s values, a reflection of Fraser’s own values: celebrating women and those who uplift women.
“We were mindful how we created Iskwew’s name,” said Fraser, whose ancestral community is Port Chipwyan, Alberta, although she said she doesn’t live there. “It’s a celebration of our languages, Indigenous women and First Nations.”
In accord with that, Fraser and her airline requested permission to do business on traditional unceded Musqueam Nation territory, where Vancouver International Airport is located.
On September 21, 2018, she received the Nation’s blessing. “We really, genuinely, authentically asked for permission to do business. We wanted to start our operation in a good way,” Fraser told Native Business.
Coinciding with International Women’s Day, Canada’s first Indigenous woman-owned airline launched out of Vancouver International Airport on March 12, 2019, with one twin-engine aircraft. Iskwew operates a charter service, and eventually, short-term flights to specific destinations. Fraser has also partnered with Indigenous tourism operators to schedule joint tours.
She ultimately sees the resilience and might of women and Indigenous peoples benefitting the aviation industry. “Including and amplifying the diverse, important, talented and much-needed voices in aviation, we can see a future of innovation, of abundance and of economic prosperity,” she has said.