Teara Fraser, from a remote Métis community in Fort Chipewyan, Alta, is the first Indigenous woman to own an airline in Canada.
"Even today it's hard to imagine that I am launching an airline," said Teara Fraser, who grew up in a remote town in the Northwest Territories, and plans to fly her airline to hard-to-reach Indigenous communities.
She announced the start of Iskwew Air, based out of Vancouver International Airport, on Monday. Iskwew is the Cree word for woman and the airline is scheduled to commence services on International Working Women’s Day on Mar. 8, 2019.
A pilot for 15 years, Fraser wants her airline to be known for its Indigenous food and philosophy.
Teara's daughter, Kiana Alexander, an Iskwew team leader, said, "Reclaiming language and matriarchal ways of being in a non-traditional field like aviation is powerful.”
Fraser developed the idea to build an Indigenous airline during the 2010 Winter Olympics when tourists traveled to Vancouver from all over the world. Many of them wanted to visit First Nations communities in British Columbia. But the lack of service to those remote communities obstructed tourists from doing so.
"There was a vision to connect those international travelers to Indigenous communities and showcase B.C.'s First Nations," she said. "When they identified a barrier, I thought that was a way I could support Indigenous tourism.”
Fraser’s own birthplace is a fly-in only community, but with minimal service — it has just one winter road. Otherwise, people have to use boats or plane to reach it. Fraser is determined to change that and connect more remote communities with mainlands and with each other.
“Iskwew Air will provide service to communities like these and lead the industry by championing Indigenous people and culture,” she said.
Heather Bell, chair of the British Columbia Aviation Council, congratulated Fraser for achieving the feat. "It's great to see an Indigenous woman making this kind of statement. It's fabulous and I'm very excited," said Bell. "There are women that have been in high levels in the aviation industry, but even that is very rare.”
"It's time," said Fraser. "Time to show the world what is possible."