Indigenbiz Highlighting Indigenous People & Communities Engaged in Meaningful Business & Economic Development
SHANNON PESTUN'S LIFE MISSION: HELPING INDIGENOUS WOMEN REALIZE AND ACHIEVE THEIR TRUE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL
by Steven McCoy
May 18, 2022
Even though Shannon Pestun grew up in an entrepreneurial family, from childhood she realized her true passion was in teaching others. Shannon used to line up her dolls and teddy bears in classroom style, deliver them lessons and she gave her stuffed students report cards. She even had certain favourites in her teddy bear schoolroom.
“I would teach whatever I learned in school that day to my classroom at home in my bedroom,” Shannon recalled as she talked about her early memories of being a teddy bear teacher.
When Shannon was not teaching her stuffed students lessons, she helped her parents who owned and operated a Edmonton furniture company located in the Treaty 6 area of Alberta. Shannon and her brother helped with various tasks such as cleaning on the weekends and doing accounts payable and accounts receivable in the office during the week.
Shannon’s playful childhood was filled with promise and held a future that seemed complete with opportunity and prosperity. But like too many young Indigenous girls, Shannon became a victim to sexual abuse which shattered her childhood innocence and darkened her life journey that had barely begun.
“It impacted my whole sense of self,” said Shannon as she shared how trauma affected her life. “As I started to go into junior high…things went on a different path and I really felt like I lost who I was. I was on an aimless path, like a feather in the wind.”
After Shannon and her family moved to a new city, she was still not able to break from the effects of her childhood trauma. “Whichever way the wind blew is where I kind of went and I started meeting the wrong people,” recalled Shannon.
As an adolescent teen at the age of 16, Shannon dropped out of high school and wound up working two full time jobs: one at a retail store in the mall during the day and the other serving hot dogs outside a club at night. Despite the traumatic effects of her early childhood, Shannon’s entrepreneurial spirit was still present as she brought in various toppings from home like onions and cheese to upsell while she worked the hot dog stand at night.
Shannon managed to make just enough money to pay for rent and survive. However, one day when she was sitting in the mall food court with her boss from the retail store, her life changed. Shannon’s boss proceeded to tell her that she had far more potential for success than what she was doing now, and it was time for Shannon to go back to school.
“Sometimes it takes certain people to elevate you and to help you see your own self-worth,” said Shannon as she spoke about that moment sitting in the mall food court with her retail store boss. So, Shannon resumed her educational journey and completed her high school diploma with straight A’s. She continued her journey onto college and university where she studied business and graduated from Mount Royal with a diploma and then earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Lethbridge.
With a newfound enthusiasm for life and an educational background in business, Shannon’ career started in marketing, which led her to employment in the financial industry. As a banker, she helped entrepreneurs secure loans to start and grow their business. When Shannon first started as a banker, she did not have any women in her portfolio, and she also noticed a distinct lack of Indigenous clients in the business loans department.
Shannon began digging into why Indigenous people, especially women, were so underrepresented as business lending clients in the banking sector. The more she researched the issue, the more layers of complications she uncovered that contributed to the overall problem. It was during this time that Shannon met Holly Cooper, another Indigenous leader who inspired Shannon to explore the unique barriers Indigenous women face as entrepreneurs.
Shannon started to grasp how the banking system upheld certain barriers for certain people and enabled the power of privilege to prevail for others. Shannon realized the banking system needed to create a more inclusive environment for traditionally marginalized individuals like women and Indigenous people.
When determining loan eligibility, bankers look at factors to be present in borrowers such as suitable collateral, a certain amount of equity, an established lending history and a full-time commitment from the borrower to their business project. But many Indigenous entrepreneurs do not have collateral, especially if they are living on-reserve due to restrictions in the Indian Act, therefore they usually do not have any equity or a lengthy lending history. Plus, many Indigenous women have major family commitments so they can only commit to their business on a part-time basis when they are first starting out in entrepreneurship.
“I vowed to help drive change in the financial system by bringing greater awareness to the systematic and attitudinal barriers women and Indigenous women face,” Shannon recalled regarding her experience working in the banking and finance industry.
Shannon also points out that some of the systematic barriers that face Indigenous women entrepreneurs are easier to pinpoint and include things like financial literacy and access to credit and equity. But Shannon also discovered other barriers that are not so easily spotted, ones that always seemed to show up in the form of past traumas and lateral violence for both Indigenous women and men alike.
“In a lot of the work that I do with clients, I end up uncovering trauma,” said Shannon. Unhealed trauma can certainly have varying consequences on an individual person but when entire First Nation communities are still suffering from the devastating effects of colonialization, the results can be demoralizing.
Shannon also observed that “Lateral violence can hold us back when we’re not supporting and elevating one another…we’re not going to pull our whole communities out of poverty,” as she explained her views regarding the topic of lateral violence which is not spoken about often but is rather prevalent in many First Nation communities. “We still need to create environments that allow people to feel empowered and that we call out lateral violence when we see it.”
Shannon’s mission to help Indigenous entrepreneurs, especially woman, achieve economic prosperity through entrepreneurship has brought her to where she is today. A few years ago, Shannon left her full-time job in the banking industry and started her own consultancy practice supporting the eco-system of Indigenous women entrepreneurs. A year later, she co-founded The Finance Cafe with fellow entrepreneur, Shauna Frederick.
For Shannon, her mission and objectives are clear: “In my life, I have a role to play in economic reconciliation and helping more Indigenous women see their full potential.”
Shannon’s passion to teach others has certainly been reignited and she has become a champion by helping Indigenous women build their financial literacy, confidence, and capabilities. Sometimes, Shannon even helps clients recognize they have a viable business in front of them when they did not see one before, such as Indigenous beaders and artists.
Shannon believes that it is important for Indigenous entrepreneurs to gain exposure to different markets and supply chains across the country and around the world to get a better understanding of the promising opportunities that exist in the broader economic marketplace.
“We see a lot of Indigenous women, for example, who are exporting, especially if they’re in the fashion or design industry because a lot of these products can go across borders,” said Shannon when talking about business prospects in international markets.
To help advance Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship, Shannon is currently working with a couple Aboriginal Financial Institutions to implement a new micro-lending program and create educational offerings that will assist Indigenous startups who require a small amount of cash to jumpstart their entrepreneurial dreams.
In addition, she recently launched Canada’s first bursary which is dedicated to helping Indigenous women entrepreneurs called The Gifting Circle where anyone can donate to it. Her goal is for it to live in perpetuity through her alma mater, Mount Royal University, where she started her post-secondary journey.
In staying true to her enthusiasm for teaching, Shannon is currently working with Indigenous youth to show them the various pathways that are available for careers in business. In addition, Shannon promotes entrepreneurship to Indigenous youth to encourage more business start-ups while sharing her story to inspire other people to pursue their dreams.
“We continue to pave the way for others to follow and we lift people up as we go. When you see through someone else's experiences and what they have overcome, you think okay I can do it too.” said Shannon. “I can use my story to show other people that there’s a better way and the work that I had to do to get here. I can help change that cycle for a lot of other women.”
Shannon Pestun is a role model and influential disruptor who is doing her part in helping Indigenous women entrepreneurs realize and achieve their true economic potential and inspire others to overcome their circumstances to achieve abundance and prosperity. Her story is an inspiration for all of us who seek something better in life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven McCoy is an Ojibwe from Garden River First Nation in Northern Ontario and life-long resident of Sault Ste. Marie in the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850 territory. He is the founder of Indigenbiz where he publishes his journalistic work highlighting Indigenous people in business. He is also a successful businessman who specializes in communications, marketing, public relations and Indigenous liaison through another company he founded called Gencity Consulting. In addition, Steven is a skilled public speaker with a unique ability to capture the audience's attention through descriptive story telling. He is also a motivational speaker who draws upon his life experiences growing up off-reserve while overcoming poverty, abandonment and racism to achieve success.