Indigenous airline aims to 'walk softly' on Mother Earth

Indigenous airline takes off

Woman Air – that is the rough translation for a new airline, Iskwew Air, operating out of Vancouver International Airport which is founded and run by a Metis woman.

On Monday, YVR and Iskwew Air signed a memorandum of understanding to work toward reconciliation and furthering Indigenous tourism.

Iskwew is the Cree word for “woman” and the new airline’s focus is on elevating women in Indigenous business.

Teara Fraser, founder and owner of Iskwew, said the new airline’s aim is about “decolonizing and decarbonizing the skies for the next seven generations.”

This will allow the business to “walk more softly on Mother Earth,” she added.

Fraser noted every Iskwew Air flight is “carbon neutral,” whereby a donation is made toward the Great Bear Rainforest.

Fraser said the company is also working with YVR’s innovation hub to collaborate on initiatives, sharing information and inspiring other YVR-based companies to be more sustainable.

This includes looking at how flights can be more sustainable, for example, by reducing time in the air, as well as looking at the future of air travel, be it electric or hydrocarbon-based.

“That’s how we see large-scale change,” Fraser said.

The MOU is an agreement to uplift Indigenous tourism, be more sustainable and acknowledge a deeper partnership between YVR and Indigenous people in B.C., Fraser explained.

Iskwew Air received the blessing from Musqueam to operate on their traditional unceded territory in September 2018.

Iskwew Air received its operating certificate in October 2019 and started its scheduled, cargo and charter flights in 2021.  

The silver lining of starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, when air travel dropped by about 90 per cent at YVR, was that businesses learned to be more creative and innovative, focusing on sustainability and equity, Fraser said.

The MOU is “meaningful reconciliation” which will allow First Nations to achieve “economic reconciliation,” she added.

“I want to see lots of Indigenous businesses here at YVR,” she said.

Fraser spoke of “rematriating” Indigenous businesses, that is, from an Indigenous perspective, “women are honoured in their leadership and… their unique approach to community building and relationship building and caring for others,” Fraser told the Richmond News at Monday’s event.

This is done through a lens of womanhood, language and leadership and Fraser said she’s been promoting the hashtag #Rematriate to promote women in Indigenous businesses.

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