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Bears’ Lair founder Geena Jackson helps Indigenous entrepreneurs walk a shared path to prosperity

Geena Jackson
Geena Jackson is founder and executive producer of Bears' Lair, as well as one of the judges.

For many years, Geena Jackson felt that Canada desperately needed a TV show for Indigenous entrepreneurs. The proud member of shíshálh (Sechelt) First Nation has seen business moguls mentoring and financing contestants on programs like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank.

In her 13 years as an economic development officer with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw / Squamish First Nation, Jackson helped support 500 Indigenous members launch their own enterprises.

“Through my journey of working with Indigenous entrepreneurs through the Nation, I found that there was such a commonality not just in the resilience of who we are as a people, but in the barriers to accessing capital,” Jackson tells Pancouver over Zoom.

Moreover, she adds that many Indigenous entrepreneurs overcame stereotypes associated with living on a reserve.

“But one commonality, as well, is everyone that I worked with was looking to solve a problem and create a solution within their community on a grassroots, regional or national level,” Jackson declares.

Jackson studied broadcast journalism at the B.C. Institute of Technology broadcast journalism many years ago, but she had never been involved in television production. However, her can-do attitude, which she honed while working for the Squamish First Nation, gave her the courage to launch the Bears’ Lair TV show in the midst of the pandemic. Through the program, she aims to elevate Indigenous entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday (June 4), APTN will launch the second season of Bears’ Lair with Jackson as one of the four business-savvy bears. The other three are Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business CEO Tabatha Bull (Nipissing Nation), former Nunasi Corporation CEO Clint Davis (Inuk from Labrador), and Tuccaro Group of Companies founder Dave Tuccaro (Mikisew Cree Nation).

Bears’ Lair is also available on Apple TV and Air Canada.

Geena Jackson
Geena Jackson (seated) is joined on the judging panel by (left to right) Tabatha Bull, Clint Davis, and Dave Tuccaro.

Jackson seeks to understand the “why”

Eighteen entrepreneurs from a wide range of Indigenous nations will be in the running for the $100,000 grand prize. They include Anishinaabe, Coast Salish, Inuk, Cree, Dene, and Métis contestants.

“We like to choose specialty and strategically noncompetitive businesses, because what we really want to promote is ‘co-opetition’,” Jackson says.

There’s a “TV Coaching Crew”, which offer advice. After hearing this, the contestants make their pitches to the judges.

“Then, they go to a Speakers Corner, and they’re like, ‘Holy shit, I am so scared’ or ‘I am so excited’ or “I had the best time’,” Jackson explains.

As executive producer, Jackson enjoys asking Indigenous entrepreneurs why they started businesses. She has often felt incredibly moved by the responses.

As an example, Jackson mentions one person talking about paying $10 for lettuce in a community store. This entrepreneur wanted to develop an integrated vertical system that grew leafy greens, tomatoes, strawberries, and peppers to enhance food security. Another entrepreneur started a business to find solutions for an auntie with arthritis.

“They all want to give back,” Jackson says.

She learned to ask the “why” behind a business idea from former Squamish Nation elected Chief Gilbert “Gibby” Jacob.

“He’s a fantastic individual and very astute with business, but more importantly, with relationship building,” Jackson notes.

She recalls Jacob once telling a construction company owner that before he talked about what he does, Jacob wanted to know why he was doing it. The business owner was initially taken aback, but his response was very emotional.

“Sometimes when you’re in business, you get so busy that you don’t see the forest for the trees,” Jackson says.

Watch APTN’s trailer for Bears’ Lair Season 2.

Mentoring Indigenous youths

In addition to the TV show, Jackson promotes entrepreneurship to Indigenous youths from 11 to 18 years of age. Interactive Bears’ Lair TV Youth Dream Camps have taken her to many provinces, where participants develop their business acumen.

“They learn public speaking, eye contact, body language, financial literacy, negotiation skills, and media training,” Jackson reveals. “We teach them how to shake a hand properly and how to give a business card. We teach them about networking—all in three or four days—and we have a graduation ceremony.”

She describes students as “the decision-makers of tomorrow” and “our future leaders”.

Jackson points out that Indigenous nations are taking ownership of major businesses now. An example is MST Development Corporation, which is a partnership of the Musqueam Indian Band, Squamish Nation, and Tsleil-Wauth Nation. Plus, large industrial projects are seeking a minimum of 10 percent Indigenous employment, up from five percent in the past, according to Jackson.

When asked for the “why” behind Bears’ Lair, she replies that Indigenous entrepreneurialism is the fastest growing industry in Canada.

“I see opportunity,” Jackson states. “People are really starting to pay attention. Reconciliation is becoming ReconciliACTION.”

For more information on Bears’ Lair Season 2, visit the website. This year’s special audience prize is a wilderness retreat at Klahoose Wilderness Resort in Desolation Sound. It’s worth an estimated $20,000. Learn more about diverse communities from the Toronto Spark website. Follow the Toronto Spark on X @TOSparkOfficial.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Toronto Spark editor Charlie Smith has worked as a journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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