Take a chance on university, advises AU grad and Indigenous business leader
Athabasca University alum Carter Yellowbird shares advice to help Indigenous students find success
Carter Yellowbird (Master of Business Administration ’12) isn’t afraid of taking chances. In fact, trying new things has proved a recipe for success in his life and career in business.
Yellowbird, of Samson Cree Nation, was just 16 years old when he left his home in Maskwacis for the first time for sunny California—an adventure that helped steer him toward his first career, which was in professional rodeo. Years later, he moved halfway across the world to Paris to ride in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Euro Disney.
Both experiences were life-changing and helped him understand himself and his culture.
“Before I went to California, I wanted to get away. I said, ‘I’m moving away. I hate the community. I don’t want to be part of the community.’ What I didn’t realize is, wherever I run, there I am,” remembers Yellowbird, an Athabasca University (AU) business alum. “I was running away from myself.”
“You need to think outside the box. You can’t be afraid to take chances.”– Carter Yellowbird (Master of Business Administration '12)
Take a chance on yourself
Today, Yellowbird is a business consultant who advises First Nations on how to diversify investment portfolios. He attributes his successes, which also include a bachelor’s degree in native studies from the University of Alberta and an online MBA from AU, to that willingness to take chances.
“What I always taught my boy, Shay—he’s a councillor with Samson Cree Nation—is that you need to think outside the box. You can’t be afraid to take chances.”
That’s a message he often shares with other young Indigenous People, especially those who may be thinking about enrolling in university. While Yellowbird followed opportunities that took him to other countries, he recognizes that’s not possible for everyone. The reality is, many people living on reserve do not have the ability or desire to leave home for a variety of reasons.
“It’s the fear of being out there, away from the reserve, which is challenging for a lot of people.”
Study without leaving home
Yellowbird says online programs like those offered at AU “are perfect” for people from First Nations and isolated communities, “because the education can come to you.” AU’s open learning model also means anyone 16 years or older can pursue a degree.
“We have to bring the education to them,” Yellowbird says.
“Athabasca University is perfect for First Nations and communities that are isolated, because education can come to you.”– Carter Yellowbird
Embrace culture and new opportunities
As much as Yellowbird values his experiences living and working in Europe, he did experience culture shock and loneliness. He overcame this, he says, by embracing his culture. “I reached back to my roots, to my people, to the Elders, and asked for prayers. I used my Traditional Knowledge.”
Yellowbird says he would not have found success if he had not been open to new opportunities and experiences. That’s advice he often shares with the next generation.
“Look beyond reserve boundaries and look for opportunities out there because society is changing now,” he says. “Society is changing with different segments in life. Technology and changing diversity are key elements that can benefit anyone to advance in today’s fast-paced society.”
Education and economic development lead to “wellness”
Education is one of those opportunities that Yellowbird strongly believes can help counteract challenges closer to First Nations.
“Education is a key component that can help deal with challenges for many nations—unemployment, clean drinking water, and health, to name a few,” he says. “We need to incorporate unique innovative strategies to face challenges, and work closer with government and industry to assist First Nations with these challenges. We need to show them the doors and give them the tools and support to open the doors.”
Yellowbird believes economic development is the key element for wellness. “The people need to be given a chance to heal themselves through economic development,” he says. “Economic development creates goals and objectives, which is a form of wellness.”
Seek inspiration in others
Yellowbird’s career is far from a straight line. After an injury ended his career in rodeo, he returned home to complete his high school equivalency before turning his attention to post-secondary and then a career in business.
Yellowbird says there is value in learning from the experiences and example of others.
“I always tell people to look outside and see who else has made it out there, because they have a recipe for success to share with the people. Those are the ones we need to reach out to and to bring back their stories to give the Nations and other youth tools to get out there as well.”
Giving back to the community
Every year, AU awards $1,500 to an Indigenous student through the Carter Yellowbird Indigenous Bursary. Yellowbird says the bursary is meant to provide assistance to help students overcome challenges they may face.
“Hopefully it will help some other people, whether it helps with gas, helps with their tuition, food, whatever it takes. I just hope that it helps for a First Nations student to reach their goal.”