While she may not wear a cape, Teara Fraser fits plenty of the criteria for a modern superhero. As founder and CEO of Iskwew Air, she regularly takes to the skies. And, she’s about to feature as a character in a DC Comics graphic novel.
Fraser is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to start her own airline, with Iskwew Air lifting off in March of 2019. Since then, it’s offered charter services throughout our province with an aim of eventually offering scheduled air connection to smaller, isolated communities throughout BC.
What’s the story behind Iskwew Air?
It came about a long time ago, when Vancouver and Whistler were vying to host the Olympics. BC’s Olympic Organizing Committee had a vision of showcasing our First Nations to the world. Not only did they want to bring people to Vancouver, they also wanted to connect them with authentic stories of this land and the Indigenous Peoples who live here.
A blueprint report came out around then that identified a clear barrier in transportation to some of our smaller, more remote communities. I wanted to take some of the gifts and abilities I had and use them to support Indigenous peoples and communities. They were looking at Indigenous tourism as an opportunity to create economic prosperity within these communities, elevating their language, culture and connection to their land.
Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t right and I had to shelve the idea. Fast forward a few years, and I had just sold my aerial surveying company. I was at a bit of a crossroads and contemplating whether I was done in aviation. It led to me holding a little ‘letting go’ ceremony that turned into a ‘starting a new business’ ceremony. I went home that night and named the business, incorporated the business, and the journey of Iskwew Air continued.
How did you come up with the name Iskwew Air?
Iskwew is the Cree word for woman. I’m a Metis but certainly my ancestral language is Cree. I chose the name as an act of reclamation. A reclamation of womanhood in a very male-dominated industry, reclamation of matriarchal leadership, and reclamation of language. Most of the t-shirts I wear, they say #Rematriate on them and I want to ensure there’s room for all kinds of leadership, including matriarchal leadership, in our society.
What type of services does Iskwew Air offer?
At the moment, we’re very much still in startup mode and we’ve been hit quite hard by COVID-19. We offer charter services based out of Vancouver International Airport. Based on how COVID-19 unfolds and the demand for air travel, we’re looking to potentially start some scheduled services to smaller, remote communities.
Just last week, we announced our partnership with the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium. This puts us into the space of Advanced Air Mobility which is, and I don’t know the easiest way to describe this, but it’s like The Jetsons! It’s a group that’s coming together to create a more sustainable future for aviation. We’re very much excited to be a part of it and I see myself and Iskwew Air as part of the bridge between our traditional air transportation and the sustainable transportation of our future.
What kind of specific impacts has COVID had on Iskwew Air?
It’s impacted us in a couple of different ways. Our season for 2020 was booked with tourism flights and that just completely vanished, almost overnight. We did continue to operate all the way through COVID, and one of the ways we tried to help was to run a fundraising campaign alongside SheEO. We’re very much part of their community and a community of Indigenous women entrepreneurs.
The fundraising campaign was designed to deliver essentials and a badly needed love and lift into Indigenous communities. There’s been so much impact due to COVID, so much hardship. Were having a global collective experience here and I’m seeing a reconnection with our humanity, with our responsibilities and really with our tenacity.
Is it true you’ll be appearing in a DC Comics graphic novel?
It is! The author contacted me and they had curated a list of ‘Wonder Women of History’ and they wanted me to be among them. The most important part of that for me, is that she curated a list of women that are standing for justice in their own unique ways. I found myself on this list of wildly incredible women doing really important things in the world. It feels strange, it doesn’t feel real.
It’s coming out in three weeks time and I suppose it will get more real then but right now, I don’t know what it’s going to look like! It’s such an incredible honor to be listed alongside these awe-inspiring humans.
Why do you think it’s so important for people to support small businesses like yours?
I believe it’s critical that people show their support for small businesses. They’re the life of our country. We have to understand there’s power in our dollars. We’re making choices with every dollar we spend and the consciousness of the impact of those choices that we’re making is really important – especially when it comes to Indigenous women entrepreneurs. I believe helping to create conditions for Indigenous women entrepreneurs to thrive is the single most natural, fast and effective pathway to economic reconciliation in our country.
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