MRU welcomes Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation Chair in Indigenous Business and Economic Development

Dr. Evelyn Poitras, PhD, will Chair a new program for Indigenous Business students
Dr. Evelyn Poitras, PhD, Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation Chair in Indigenous Business and Economic Development
Dr. Evelyn Poitras, PhD.

Mount Royal University is pleased to welcome Dr. Evelyn Poitras, PhD, as the Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation Chair in Indigenous Business and Economic Development (IBED).

The IBED program is a collaboration between Mount Royal and Siksika Nation’s Old Sun Community College. It was initiated through collaborative planning and development efforts. The program has been significantly enhanced by a $1.4 million gift from the Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation, which specifically funded the Ptarmigan Charitable Foundation Chair in Indigenous Business and Economic Development (IBED).

The IBED concentration is tailored for Indigenous students, something Poitras takes pride in. She says she has heard from various Indigenous communities that business and money alone are not the answer for community prosperity.

“There is an idea of sovereignty that is linked to self-sufficiency. They ask ‘how can we be self-determining if we are dependent on government funding’. This is not just a Business and Economic Development program - it is an Indigenous Business and Economic Development program. We are working in partnership with a particular Indigenous community and Nation. There is an objective that is also community-based,” she explains.

​​Through the IBED, Indigenous students will immerse themselves in a business and management education designed specifically for them. Examples include land-based learning, Indigenous ways of knowing, involvement of Indigenous elders and knowledge-keepers in the classroom and co-operative education placements with Indigenous bands or organizations.

As Chair, Poitras hopes to build on the program, adding that there is also potential to include other students from other Treaty Seven First Nations as well as other Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Having most recently served as Director of Programs at University nuhelot’ine thaiyots’i nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, she is already very familiar with Old Sun because both schools are part of the First Nations Adult and Higher Education Consortium.

Poitras acknowledges that like Blue Quills, Old Sun is based in an old residential school building. “It is significant that the education of these schools was taken over in the 1970s and transferred to Indian control. From colonization to decolonization, the partnership with Mount Royal is taking another important step that has the potential to develop necessary capacity development in governance and management,” she says.

Long history with Old Sun

Mount Royal has a long history with Old Sun. It was one of the first “partnership” colleges in Canada and began as a satellite campus of what was then Mount Royal College (MRC), and was jointly administered by the Siksika Nation, MRC and the Department of Indian Affairs with additional support from the Government of Alberta.

Poitras further explains the notion of decolonization as it relates to the program and the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge and teachings. Indigenous communities are familiar with the experience of colonization and share common stories and challenges, she says. “Miyo pimatisiwin (good life) is also a familiar concept from our Indigenous histories and inherent foundations.”

She recalls a teaching from an economics class that used the term, good life. ”As Indigenous people, we have always known what this means and there are principles that we still strive to uphold in our lives today. This is still our wealth. I still hear my late dad saying ‘when you feel good about yourself and you know who you are, then that’s wealth’. How do we draw these principles forward to our foundations today? This is decolonization and again, it is a common objective. We can be and are leaders in our communities and Nations but also in the world. That is the wealth of our Indigenous Knowledges.”

As part of her role, Dr. Poitras will provide guidance to the Faculty to integrate the Indigenous context across programs so that students can learn about the unique factors that impact economic development of Indigenous communities, as well as what non-Indigenous organizations need to understand to work respectfully with those communities.

“We are very excited to welcome Dr. Poitras to this position. Evelyn’s expertise is pivotal to the evolution of our curriculum and teaching practices. She will have a significant impact; helping Indigenous students become tomorrow's leaders within and well beyond their Indigenous communities," said Dr. Kelly Williams-Whitt, dean of the faculty of Business, Communication Studies and Aviation. "Her experience in Indigenous governance and leadership make her the ideal person to take on this important role."

Poitras brings a wealth of personal and professional experience to her new role at Mount Royal.

She comes from Treaty Four and has served her First Nation, Peepeekisis, as an elected Headperson. Her first degree was in film and video studies where she learned storytelling and communication. She also spent time as an independent producer which allowed her to hone her entrepreneur and small business skills.

In addition to her degree, Poitras has earned a diploma in Aboriginal land management and a degree in Indian studies. Her post-graduate studies include a master’s degree in Indigenous governance, in which her research focused on Treaty sovereignty, as well as a PhD which she recently completed. Her dissertation was based on narratives from her mother as a nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman).

“I derived teachings related to inherent governance and based on the Grandmother Moons as this was the model my mother used in her own nehiyaw/Cree teachings,” she explains, adding that stories and narratives on governance, including Treaty as law, are ways that she grounds herself in Indigenous knowledge.

“How do we bring our foundations forward today? Because we are critically missing that, if we do not. Nikawiy, my mother, puts it this way: ‘I put myself in the middle of the circle. The circle of life is miyo pimatisiwin, good life. I reject the box of Western knowledge that was the Indian Residential school that I attended’. That is decolonization. For me, this is my inherent leadership from nikawiy.”

Poitras also draws inspiration, especially as it pertains to business, from her late father.

“Education is said to be the ‘new buffalo’ and the buffalo was also a provider of economic well-being. My late father was Walking Buffalo and he was a leader who believed in business and economic development also.”

She says as an elected Indian Act Chief in the early ‘80s, her father felt that his hands were tied by the bureaucracy of Indian Affairs.

“He did believe that there was one answer in economic development. There is a story of the buffalo that will face the storm in winter - it will break the trail for the other animals to follow.”

Poitras says both of her parents were educators for many years and she is pleased to be following in their footsteps.

Read more about the Bissett School of Business at MRU.