stats Making the Business of Life Easier

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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


The wireless warrior's digital dream

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower and Tibor Kolley.
The Globe and Mail, December 10, 2001

Part 6 of 7: 'There's so much jealousy once you're successful'

Ottawa The trio easily could have retired. Bernard, with $2-million for his quarter-share of Systems Interface, gave a few thousand dollars to his older brother and each of his five sisters. He also helped his brother to set up a business, operating a teepee village for tourists.

As well, he gave $30,000 to Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., to establish a computer-science scholarship for aboriginal students, and invested $400,000 in - designed to help small companies collect bills on line. Sure enough, the site was caught in the great dot-com collapse, but Bernard, ever the optimist, believes it will soon be back in business.

The marriage of cultures, Bernard believes, is what improves the lives of people. But he is all too aware of the risks.

He also feels that Donna Cona can double its business every year, even as it attracts more and more attention within a community not always known for celebrating its own accomplishments. He's talking about natives, not techies. "I'm not proud of this," he says, "but we're our own worst enemy. There's so much jealousy once you're successful."

Last year, however, he received an Aboriginal Achievement Award, given annually by an influential group keen to promote native role models. The black-tie ceremony could have been the highlight of a career. But what Bernard remembers most vividly was the event's sponsorship board, and how all the big-letter names - Air Canada, Royal Bank, BP-Amoco - were such emblems of white corporate Canada. He says he won't be satisfied until Donna Cona is among them.

Bernard knows that the high-tech world - so often seen as colour-blind - is more complex than the achievement awards might suggest. His own livelihood is intertwined with the technology, management skills and capital he accessed from the white world. He doubts that his company could have survived the federal foot-dragging on contracts without Sierra Systems' deeper pockets.

He also would not have been able to create 25 high-paying, high-tech jobs for natives if he had not been able to tap into Foote's vision or Dowdall's bottom-line discipline. Those were useful assets for Donna Cona in a recent deal that gives it exclusive rights to market Nortel Networks equipment to aboriginal communities.

The marriage of cultures, Bernard believes, is what improves the lives of people. But he is all too aware of the risks. They are perhaps not as grave as those fated for the fabled Iroquois chief, but they are serious nonetheless. He could yet be seen as the very aboriginal front man he so often criticizes. He could also end up selling advanced technology to people who have much more basic needs.

But he also may be emerging as the sort of entrepreneur - still scarce so many centuries after Donnacona's demise - who can bridge two cultures, and profit from both. Whatever the extent of Ottawa's commitment to a native broadband project, the effort will struggle to succeed if it does not tap the private-sector gumption, and risk-taking, of natives like Bernard. It will also need skills, technology and capital from the world that Foote and Dowdall represent.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 7):

Photo Essay
The Internet Indian

1. 'This is the time!'
John Bernard's secret to success

2. 'The phone lines are too slow'
Envisioning high-speed access as a way to close the divide between reserves

3. Inside Donna Cona
"How do I, as an aboriginal firm, continue to grow without becoming non-aboriginal?"

4. First lessons in profit motive
The indifference to getting ahead bothered me. There was so much welfare.'

5. 'They're creative, they're artistic, they're visual'
Creating a native business and working to secure the contracts

6. 'There's so much jealousy once you're successful'
Building on accomplishments in a community not always known for celebrating

7. Continuing to climb the ladder of success
One of the greatest challenges rests in his own community



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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