Chatting with Teara Fraser, first Indigenous woman to launch an airline in Canada

Avatar for Tamara BottingBy Tamara Botting | February 23, 2022

Estimated reading time 11 minutes, 27 seconds.

Teara Fraser, lead executive officer and founder of Iskwew Air, said Indigenous Peoples can play a significant role in the advanced air mobility (AAM) industry, believing that the Indigenous community can reap many rewards from entering the sector in its early stages.

Fraser should know — she was the first Indigenous woman to launch an airline in Canada. We recently connected with Fraser who shared her own perspective as an Indigenous individual working in the aviation field. The interview has been edited for clarity.  

Teara Fraser Iskwew Air
Teara Fraser was the first Indigenous woman to launch an airline in Canada. Image: Ida Adamowicz, Wonderful Ida Content Creation Co. Which organizations are you involved with in the AAM sector, and why do you choose to be a voice at those tables?  

Teara Fraser: Iskwew Air is one of 18 founding members of the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium (CAAM). I choose to be a voice at that table because there is care and intention around equity, and what that means as we work toward a different kind of industry with the emerging technology. The Indigenous voice is valued and welcomed.

I also sit on the board of the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada (formerly Unmanned Systems Canada), and I’m newly on the board of the Canadian Robotics Council. I’m part of these other organizations because I believe they will help us move forward to more sustainable skies. What are some of the career opportunities you see developing in the AAM sector?

Teara Fraser: I see all kinds of careers. There are different kinds of technical skills that will be required for the aircraft of the future — technical skills from flying them, to fixing them, to charging them, to landing them, and everything else in between. Why do you feel it’s important for Indigenous Peoples to have opportunities to get involved in the aviation industry as a whole, and in particular, the emerging AAM sector?  

Teara Fraser: It’s important for Indigenous Peoples to be involved in anything that is happening on the land that they have been stewarding for generations after generations.

The connection that Indigenous Peoples bring, the wisdom that offers us new and broader ways of thinking and being and doing will help us to redesign systems that are rooted in humanity.

Involve Indigenous Peoples because you should and you have a responsibility to, and really understand the gift that that perspective brings.

Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples have been creating, innovating, and working together for a better future. I want to see Indigenous Peoples in all different kinds of roles, in all places in the system, and most importantly, I want to see Indigenous Peoples leading in the space. What are some of the obstacles that Indigenous Peoples face when pursuing opportunities in AAM or aviation in general?

Teara Fraser: The aviation industry as it is now has very little diversity. To me, the barrier is just so obvious. We need to dismantle the systems that create this inequity, that create the barriers for anyone who’s diverse to be part of the system.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a really precious opportunity to disrupt that formidable status quo and reimagine, rematriate, and rebuild something that serves all peoples. It’s critically important for us to resist the ease of just building back the industry exactly as it was the way before. Do you have any suggestions for what non-Indigenous Peoples can do to help remove obstacles?

Teara Fraser: Look at how you, your team, and your organization are uplifting those who have been historically, colonially, and intentionally excluded from the system. At every opportunity, uplift those who haven’t had the same access or opportunities to be part of aviation and aerospace.

Even just think about who are you hiring, by what metrics are you measuring the competence of people to be part of your team, and who’s in your leadership?

When it comes to Indigenous Peoples specifically, people need to understand the history of colonization and genocide to understand how our current and existing systems are built upon the oppression of Indigenous Peoples. In that understanding, people can then see where the inequities in the system need to be reconciled.

Teara Fraser Iskwew
Teara Fraser is the lead executive officer and founder of Iskwew Air in Vancouver, British Columbia. Image: Ida Adamowicz, Wonderful Ida Content Creation Co. Iskwew Air’s Give Them Wings program works to introduce young Indigenous Peoples to aviation. What other training, support programs, education, etc., do you see as being needed to help encourage more Indigenous Peoples to enter this sector — and who do you see as being primarily responsible for providing these supports?

Teara Fraser: What’s needed is an examination of a system that isn’t working, and dismantling the parts of that system that lead to this in the first place, while at the same time offering the specific supports that will encourage meaningful engagement.  

Indigenous Peoples need to be able to see themselves in the industry and feel like they have access. There are significant socio-economic gaps that have been created as a result of colonization. So, how do we increase opportunities for access and reduce financial barriers?

If we’re really interested in engaging Indigenous Peoples now or in the future of flight, then everyone has a role in that.

Industry leaders have a responsibility to not rely on the way it’s always been, but to really think about how we can create an ecosystem where everyone belongs. Organizations have a responsibility to create culturally competent work environments.

It’s important to never underestimate the difference that individual humans can make in creating change. You can always be looking at: “What impacts can I have on the larger system?” and “What can I do right now that can be of service?” Do you see any possibilities for AAM technology benefiting Indigenous communities, particularly ones that are more remote?  

Teara Fraser: Absolutely. Making transportation more equitable and accessible. Creating more resilient supply chains to those remote communities. Communities using this emerging technology to uplift their own Indigenous land, story, sovereignty, and stewardship. Giving access to supplies, access to the basic human rights of medical care and medical supplies. The list goes on and on. What things should eVTOL developers and/or urban air mobility companies keep in mind when looking to partner with Indigenous communities?

Teara Fraser: I know that when I’m looking at who I might partner with, I’m specifically looking at what is their justice lens on their work, whether it’s social, racial, ecological, or economical justice — who cares about those things not in a performative way, but an actual way?

I think many developers and companies will want to partner with Indigenous companies and communities, and I think that’s great if it is done in an authentic, meaningful way. From an Indigenous worldview, everything is about relationships. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Teara Fraser: With Iskwew Air, we see ourselves as a bridge between traditional air transportation and the sustainable technology of the future. As a Métis woman, I’m already a bridge builder. I believe that together we can reimagine, rematriate, and rebuild an industry that centers around equity and sustainability. We can together decolonize and de-carbonize our skies for the next seven generations.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for what you are doing. It’s people like yourself that may be able to turn his twisted world around and enable us to rethink the future! Too many people treating others poorly to move Themselves ahead. Working together I feel we could Soar.
    Sincerely, Vic.

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