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MBA alum leads with bravery, vulnerability and truth

Kathleen BlueSky discusses her leadership growth and the collective energy of the Asper MBA

January 10, 2024 — 

Kathleen BlueSky [MBA/15] has always been driven by a desire to uplift Indigenous people and create more sustainable, just systems in her community.

“Everything I do is about supporting and designing initiatives led by Indigenous people and rooted in Indigenous cultures and ways of knowing.”

BlueSky has worked with First Nations her entire career, serving in high-level positions at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.

Today, she is CEO of her own practice, Seven Feathers Consulting; Co-founder of Wiijii’idiwag Ikwewag, a First Nations birthing support service; and is currently interim CEO at Treaty One Development Corporation, the company leading the development of Naawi-Oodena, the largest urban reserve in Canada.

BlueSky’s resumé demonstrates her ambition, but she acknowledges another motivation that is inextricably tied to her identity.

“As a First Nations woman, working with my community has always been my drive. It has been my goal, focus and vision to empower self-determination at every level. Business is the best place to do that, to reinforce a solid foundation of independence, self-worth, and spirit. Entrepreneurship is about believing in yourself, believing in your value, 100%.”

BlueSky is fulfilling her desire to solve problems for others. In the pursuit of this goal, she became more familiar with the feelings that she and her community carried.

“That colonial trauma is not something that I was explicitly taught. Internalized oppression, it’s something that we carry genetically and intergenerationally,” she says. “It’s a belief system that stems from the colonial history—residential schools, criminalization of economic activity in First Nations, and immobilization of Indigenous people from worldwide trade—that conditions you to accept that you are not worthy, and an unjust society, that still exists, reinforces this.”

She sees the impact of this internalized oppression in First Nations communities across Manitoba. As a leader, she is attuned to how pervasive this belief system is and how crucial it is to challenge it.

“Not only do I need to unlearn these beliefs, but I have to support others to unlearn as well so that we can change the future history. That’s a huge responsibility but if we all take ownership, we can shift the paradigm much faster.”

For BlueSky, an Asper MBA was a way to elevate her skillset so that she could contribute even more to her community, but it became a challenge to confront her own internalized feelings of unworthiness and to grow into her own leader.

“It was scary and healing at the same time,” she says, as the program introduced an environment full of seemingly confident, self-assured students. BlueSky leaned heavily on her family—her mother and husband—for support and found solace at IBEP (then ABEP).

IBEP, Indigenous Business Education Partners, is a unit that provides services to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students who pursue an undergraduate degree or MBA at Asper. During her MBA, BlueSky connected with Peter Pomart, who served as IBEP Program Director from 2011 to 2022.

BlueSky reflects on connecting with people in the MBA environment.

“Peter supported me daily. I would stop by his office and talk to him. I felt acceptance in the beginning by having at least one person to connect with at Asper because every class was different—the teams were different, and the people were different.” Pomart and IBEP offered BlueSky the consistency key to navigating the program.

BlueSky learned about herself during her MBA, discovering the doubts she had carried into the program despite her demonstrable professional success, but also honing and transforming her unique skillset.

“I’m not one of those people that is at the forefront, always asserting what I think. I listen, and I see the solution emerge from the group. One of my strategies is listening and seeing the power of collective energy, and that really inspires me. My gift is to envision solutions by listening.”

She also learned that she could create a sense of belonging and confront those doubts by embracing her own leadership style. BlueSky accepted that she didn’t need to be the loudest in the room, but she did need to speak up.

“Leadership is about being brave. At first, I didn’t ask many questions; I was just observing. I realized that I had to allow myself to be vulnerable. I had to ask questions and be open to judgement.

“Working through that fear, being brave, speaking up and encouraging others, that’s leadership.”

For BlueSky, growing in this way was more than a personal journey, it was a condition of coming together in the program to collectively empower each other.

“In the MBA program, I was immersed in this environment where everybody asked questions and spoke up and gave their criticism in front of everyone. I loved it because it was an environment of truth and vulnerability.”

BlueSky’s MBA experience reveals how truth creates the groundwork for change, facilitating the creation of more just systems and better equipped leaders, and how it can challenge beliefs carried across generations, creating space for new narrative: one of worthiness, reclamation and collective energy.

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