Prudence McKenzie: Paving Progress at PLATO

Portrait of a woman with a warm smile, in her 40s. She has short, curly dark hair and fair skin with subtle freckles. She is wearing a black top and is inside a room with wooden paneling in the background. The lighting is soft and natural, highlighting her friendly demeanor.

The spring of 2023 was the start of a new chapter for Prudence McKenzie when she stepped into the room where PLATO Testing was launching its software tester training program in Prince Albert.

“At the kick-off, PLATO co-founder Denis Carignan. was introducing me to some of the PLATO staff, and I heard more about the training, said McKenzie.  “I was impressed by how PLATO was answering the Call to Action 92 from the Truth and Reconciliation by ensuring Indigenous people have access to jobs, training and education.”

After a few months of reflection, Prudence made a pivotal choice. She left her longstanding position with the Federal Government to join forces with PLATO, driven by a mission that resonated deeply with her: “Changing our world by building a stronger, more inclusive technology workforce.”

Walking away from the security of her federal role to embrace the unknown at PLATO was challenging for McKenzie, but the transition also marked her best decision. “The best decision I made was to accept this new and exciting position with Plato, I had the opportunity to leave the workforce completely but decided to stay and see how this role can benefit PLATO and my own personal career growth.”

In her journey, Prudence has confronted and navigated many barriers that women in leadership face, however, she’s stood firm in the belief that women are essential to steering us through adversity.  “I was told that women are the ones to lead us out of difficult times and we are seeing that,” said McKenzie.

When asked if there was a greatest moment in her career serving as an RCMP officer or during the past 27 years with Indigenous Services Canada, she noted, “There isn’t a defining moment but more of a realization that all my life experiences have made me the person I am today, and these lessons and skills that I have gained can be used to help others.”

Now, as the Indigenous Resource Advisor with PLATO, she takes pride in every chance to guide students and interns through their transitions into the classroom and workplace. Whether offering advice, lending a listening ear, or providing resources, she thrives on the variety each day brings.

The excitement she holds for her position at PLATO is evident. “It’s not just a job; it’s a chance to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others, to be the support they need in times of transition, and to embrace the uniqueness of each new day. “

Two decades of growth at AGI with Andrea Harrabek

A happy family of five posing for a photo outdoors at dusk. From left to right: a young woman in a navy blue dress, a man in a white shirt and black tie, a young boy in a white shirt and gray trousers, a young woman in an embellished gray gown, and a woman in a navy blue dress with a tied waist. They are standing on a gravel path with trees and a soft sunset in the background, all smiling at the camera.

When Andrea Harrabek stepped into the role of AGI receptionist in August 2001, she had no idea it would grow into the dynamic, fulfilling career she has enjoyed for the last 22 years.

“Looking at the date now, it seems like a VERY long time,” she laughs.

Harrabek’s journey with AGI mirrors the growth and evolution of the company. Each role she has taken on has been a building block for the next, as she has embraced new challenges with enthusiasm and expertise.

Today, she is AGI’s Office Manager.

“I wear a lot of hats in this position,” Harrabek says. “Quality assurance, design coordination for a team of seven drafters and five engineers-in-training, document control for all projects, client relations, project coordinator assistant…and then, of course, the general office managerial duties. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but I LOVE it!”

Harrabek says her organizational and prioritization skills have played a key role in her success, crucial to her ability to manage AGI’s diverse and constant flow of projects.

“This is a crazy busy place,” Harrabek says. “No day – and no tank – is ever the same. It keeps us on our toes!”

Known for going “with the flow,” Harrabek juggles whatever comes her way while always prioritizing the client. She says she hasn’t struggled with decisions or barriers because Jeff and Wade Burton have created a supportive culture and a cooperative, inclusive environment with fair treatment and equal opportunities for all employees, including women.

“We all try to work together to get the job done,” she says. 

Away from AGI, Harrabek is a mother to three incredible children, grateful for AGI’s support of work-life balance.

“Field trips, activities — AGI has given me the flexibility to be involved in all those important moments,” she says. “You know, it goes by fast, and I really appreciate being able to have a career and also to be present with my family.”

Meet Sienna McKenzie, Kitsaki’s Co-op Student

A portrait of a smiling woman standing outdoors with a historical stone building in the background. She has shoulder-length brown hair with soft waves and is wearing a black cardigan over a beige top. The woman appears confident and approachable, with a friendly and warm expression.

Q: Tell us about your journey, what led you to your area of study for post-secondary, and when did you decide Kitsaki was where you wanted to be?
A: My journey started in Stanley Mission and then moved to Air Ronge, where I finished high school. I was always involved, like being the football medic and working with Special Olympics – La Ronge. In 2021, I started studying Commerce in Marketing at Northlands College, and later, I moved to Saskatoon for the Edwards School of Business. While there, I also started studying for an Indigenous Governance and Politics Certificate. I’m part of the Indigenous Business Student Society, helping organize events. I’m also in the Cooperative Education Program, aiming to work at Kitsaki.

When I started university, I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I liked Commerce and connecting with people. I also wanted to work for my community. Growing up, I always heard about Kitsaki and saw their ads but didn’t know much about what they did. Learning about Indigenous Business in Canada at university, I understood how important companies like Kitsaki are for community support. That’s why I became interested in Economic Development. The Cando Economic Development Indigenous Youth Summit I attended this summer really confirmed my interest in this field. I want to make a difference in my community like the professionals I met there.

Q: What are you most excited about in your new role?
A: I’m really excited about working for my community and knowing that my work will help improve people’s lives. I’m looking forward to learning from the experienced people at Kitsaki and building relationships within the communities. It’s great to learn about marketing in an environment that I’m
comfortable with and where I want to be in the future. I’m also happy to learn things during my coop placement that will help me and the communities in the long run.

Q: What are your goals when you are finished school?
A: After school, I plan to work in a city marketing position for a few years. Then, I want to move back to La Ronge and start building my life there. I hope to keep working with Kitsaki after my coop term. I also want to keep volunteering with Special Olympics in La Ronge and look for other ways to help in the community. My main goal is to help Indigenous youth from Lac La Ronge show what we can do to the world.

When I have more time, I’d love to get a dog, have a big garden, and maybe some pet chickens.

Sienna’s first day is January 10, 2024 and she will spend her time between Kitsaki’s offices in Saskatoon and La Ronge.

Kitsaki News

Cover of Kitsaki News December 2023 issue. The headline 'The Future is Bright — Celebrating the Women Driving Growth & Change at Kitsaki' is prominently displayed at the top. Below, a list of women's names is featured, each associated with a different organization or department within Kitsaki. The background image is a serene winter scene with a road stretching towards the horizon under a bright, clear sky, suggesting optimism and forward momentum. The Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership logo is at the bottom right.

Welcome to the December 2023 issue of Kitsaki News. In this edition, we shine a spotlight on the inspiring women leading the way in growth and change across our diverse group of companies. Join us in celebrating their achievements and exploring their stories.

Kitsaki’s 2023 Annual Impact Report

Our 2023 Annual Impact Report is here, showcasing how Kitsaki and its group of companies are creating opportunities through sustainable growth.

This document is a testament to the resilience, innovation, and collaborative spirit that has driven Kitsaki through a remarkable journey of growth and community impact.

You can find the entire report below.

Meet Kitsaki’s New CEO Ron Hyggen

The concept of lifelong learning is more than just a philosophy for Ron; it’s engrained into nearly everything he does.

Born in Swift Current, Ron and his family moved to Prince Albert, and then Saskatoon, where he spent most of his younger years.

“My parents wanted to live near a university. Neither of them had gone, and they wanted us to have that chance,” he says. “Once my two sisters and I were all in elementary school, my Mom went back and got her degree in education and she recently did her masters.”

After graduating with his B.Ed and wanting to make some money over the summer before he started teaching, Ron applied for an IT job with SIGA – an opportunity that would lead him to adjust his career plans.

“A month into it, my manager asked if I would stay on as Help Desk Manager,” he says. “While I was there to gain experience in IT, what I really learned was how to manage projects. I’m a planner – I like to have Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, and to write and communicating those plans, so project management was a good fit for me.”

Ron was soon promoted to HR Manager of Information Systems and then Director of HR & Business Planning, where he focused on compliance, learning all aspects of SIGA’s business, including marketing, human resources, IT, finance, payroll, and operations. He quickly discovered that he enjoyed the work involved with business planning and designing and implementing effective policies and systems that promoted positive organizational change.

“I was process driven, you know, ‘walk me through how you do this,’ and then I’d map and systemize the processes, train staff on the systems, and deploy,” he says. “I liked the problem solving, and I got to do things at my pace, which is always fast.”

Ron earned his project management designation and moved on to a position with Deloitte, where he worked on global systems

implementation for many different businesses. From there, he took a job as VP of Business Development with Athabasca Basin Security (ABS) and was named its CEO a few months later. ABS took on an Alberta-based acquisition during Ron’s leadership as it expanded operations across the western Canada, growing from 26 employees to a workforce of over 300 with significant Indigenous employment numbers. In 2018, ABS made the 2018 Canada Business Growth 500 list as one of the country’s fastest growing companies.

STEPPING INTO NEW ROLES

Ron joined Kitsaki as Chief Operating Officer in June 2021. He was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer this July – a role he takes on with great pride.

“It’s a real honour to serve my community as CEO,” he says. “Having the opportunity to work with the team this past year has been extremely valuable. I see so much opportunity ahead for Kitsaki, a testament to all the hard work of Russell, the board, and our past leaders.”

Ron’s connection to Kitsaki and his community is strong – his great uncle, Chief Myles Venne, was the leader who founded Kitsaki in 1981.

“I spent most summers up in Sucker River with my kohkom and nimosom, helping them haul water, cut wood, and check nets,” he says. “We had a big crew of cousins and spent lots of time on the water, at the ball diamond, camping and walking to Wadin Bay for ice cream.”

When it comes to supporting Kitsaki and every asset under its umbrella, Ron says he sees nothing but good things for the company.

“Kitsaki will be completing a number of acquisitions this year that will diversify our portfolio even further,” he says. “We’re at the beginning of a real growth phase, and it’s really exciting tobeapartofit.

Helen Burgess Retires after 22 years with First Nations Insurance Services

While Helen Burgess is looking forward to spending more time with all her grandchildren, she will sorely miss her clients and the staff at First Nations Insurance Services (FNIS). Burgess recently retired after spending 22 years as the manager of FNIS.

“I was an emotional wreck for the first week (after retiring) because of the parties held on my behalf,” Burgess said. “I have felt this brokerage deep in my heart for the past 22 years.”

Burgess began her career with FNIS after working at Saskatchewan Legal Aid for 19 years. Burgess said she really didn’t know much about the insurance industry, but it was a chance to work in her community. “To begin with it would take me to a place that I always wanted to be, and that was to work with my First Nations people,” she said.

Burgess said historically First Nations people hadn’t brought a lot of insurance coverage into their lives, never mind the retirement portion of it, and this was a way to bring a great product into their lives.
Back then FNIS was a small enterprise. In fact, the year before she started the business had a net income of $252. But over time Burgess and her staff helped grow the business. She said three employees in particular, Cindy Johnson and Beatrice Arcand, who are still with FNIS, and Stuart McLellan who left a few years ago, were important to growing the business.

“They were absolutely key to my learning and to the success of the brokerage, and continue to be to this day,” Burgess said. “They were really my saviours, my anchors. They just shared the knowledge they had because they had been there for a couple of years already.”

FNIS started out exclusively offering services to Indian bands and their institutions, said Burgess, who is a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation. And it differed from anything else on the market because their plans enhanced and protected Treaty health rights, she said. As the years passed FNIS opened their services to more First Nations people in the province and expanded over the border into the North West Territories and northern Alberta, specifically Fort Chipewyan. “We brought the services to the Mikisew Cree Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation,” she said. “And we still have those clients to this day.”

Burgess remembers her first flight into Fort Chipewyan in a small, eight-seat airplane from Fort McMurray.
“I do battle claustrophobia somewhat, but I turned it over to some of my traditional beliefs and I just knew the Creator put me where I needed to be at the time and it was all in the Creator’s hands. “However, I will not say I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “It was quite the experience.”

Burgess was a hands-on administrator who travelled to meet her clients wherever they lived in Saskatchewan.
“There isn’t a community I have not been to,” she said. In the past year Burgess stepped aside as manager to work as a licensed agent and to help the new manager, Tammy McKay, get established. She said the best part of the job was building relationships with the staff and clients.

“I didn’t think of them as clients first, but more as friends and family,” she said. “And knowing you were bringing such a positive life change to them.” She said it was so rewarding to explain the importance of having benefits in place and having a plan for retirement. And then to help someone who had a death in the family or who had been stricken with a disability.

Burgess has spent her life helping other people, including her own ever-growing family. She and her husband Larry have three sons, a daughter, 12 grand children and one great grandchild. She had thought about retirement, but when a young friend developed a terminal illness it brought home the fact that life is too short. “Not everyone has the privilege of retiring and it is something we really need to embrace and give a lot of thought to,” she said.
Besides seeing more of their grandkids, Helen and Larry plan on exploring the Yukon and to continue to spend more time near the water at Sandy Lake, not too far from their farm north of Prince Albert. But she won’t forget what an honour it was to manage FNIS.

“Kitsaki gave her the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve done. That is what I’m really going to miss. The relationships with our client base and the people I worked with at the community and Kitsaki management level.”

McKenzie, a Key Figure with LLRIB and Kitsaki

Tom McKenzie has had a long and storied career with Kitsaki Management that dates back to its beginning in 1981. McKenzie, Kitsaki’s lands claims co-ordinator, has been a key figure with the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) in Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) and its Loss of Use claim that is nearing completion.

McKenzie was one of the first band members to graduate from the LLRIB teacher training program and then get his Bachelor of Education degree in 1981. “It was quite an adventure and worthwhile,” he said.

McKenzie, who is from Stanley Mission. began the teacher training program and was in the first graduating class of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada) in 1981.
“Many of my classmates went on to get their degrees and teach in the band schools,” he said.

1981 was a momentous year for McKenzie. After graduating he spent the summer of 1981 fighting fires and then was elected to council for the first time. At that time council was not a full-time job. During the 1970s the LLRIB had taken local control of their schools so he worked as a curriculum developer working with Cree language and culture development.

Kitsaki Development Corporation was incorporated that year and McKenzie began his association by being on the board of directors. At that time Kitsaki began to start developing an economy for the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.
Constitutional talks were ongoing in the early 1980s and McKenzie attended a number of conferences in Ottawa dealing with self government and constitutional rights. During that time former LLRIB chief Myles Venne and council and Senator Angus Mirasty worked hard to get treaty and Aboriginal rights enshrined in the constitution.

In 1983 McKenzie was elected chief and held that position until 1985. He continued to attend constitutional conferences, but he said, “progress was very slow.” McKenzie was chief in 1985 when a study was begun on LLRIB’s TLE. From that time on McKenzie has continued working on TLE.

In 1986 a lands claim committee was established, and McKenzie was appointed to sit on it.

He also became Kitsaki’s operations manager in 1987. It was around this time that two of Kitsaki entities began, Northern Resource Trucking and First Nations Insurance Services, which brought in operational funds.
McKenzie went back to teaching and also was heavily involved investigating self government.

In the mid 1980s the federal government had a self government proposal that McKenzie was asked to investigate. He recommended not going into it because it did not meet the recommendations of the 1983 report on self government. “But It was a learning experience and it provided us with a deeper understanding of self government,” he said.

He was part of the team that went to trial in 1997-98 for Treaty Land Entitlement, Ammunition and Twine, and Candle Lake and La Ronge school lands. They spent 47 days in court and LLRIB won an Ammunition and Twine settlement.

They also won a TLE settlement that unfortunately was overturned on appeal. But the appeal court did say there might be a claim for loss of use. The Saskatchewan court of appeal determined that since the band didn’t receive all their land until 1968, they were entitled to loss of use compensation. McKenzie has spent many years working on the claim.

The ammunition and twine settlement resulted in a mix of land and cash. The land was the new reserve for the whole band membership called Kiskinwuhumatowin in downtown La Ronge.

“The loss of use claim took a while to be negotiated and to be accepted,” he said. “In the end we did come to an agreement in principal. The agreement still has to be ratified by the band membership. “I’ve had lots of support and teamwork throughout,” he said. McKenzie said the land claim required continuity through several councils and Kitsaki was instrumental in that continuity.

He said these types of agreements, having to do with treaty rights, take a lot of time and patience to be done properly. “It is for future generations that you work on Treaty rights,” he said because the treaties are to last as long as the sun shines, the river flows, and the grass grows.

McKenzie has also kept upgrading his education in many ways. He took courses at the University of British Columbia for principal training and at Banff School of Advanced Management where he learned about finance, law, organizations, micro and macro economics. Other seminars included environmental conflict resolution, negotiation and self government.

“It is necessary to keep up to date and improve your skills and knowledge,” he said, adding, “It prepared me for my work at Kitsaki and with LLRIB.”

McKenzie was an early proponent of self government and he has worked in a number of capacities on the self government file. He has represented the LLRIB in negotiations on self government. In 2003 there was a tri-partite agreement in principle regarding a self government agreement, but it has never been ratified to this day. “Eventually self government has to come about,” he said. “It is moving in that direction across Canada. We are moving toward self government even though it is slow.”

Besides his work, McKenzie has a keen knowledge of petroglyphs and red ochre, Cree syllabics, and burbot fishing. He said you can learn a lot from the rock painting and the stories our ancestors tell.

He and his wife Betsy have been blessed with six children, four boys and two girls and 10 grandchildren. Their support has been a true blessing.

McKenzie still does a lot of fishing and some hunting at the north end of Lac La Ronge toward the Churchill River where he grew up.

They also spend time at Deception Lake — his wife’s trap line for a summer retreat. “We’ve spent many summers and some winters out there fishing and hunting,” he said.
He has also been an avid badminton player for decades, both coaching and playing.

He helped start a club in Stanley Mission and coached badminton at the Saskatchewan Games three times. He has also competed at a number of North American Indigenous Games winning a number of medals over the years, including a silver in doubles competition with his son John.

“That was the best medal I ever got,” he said.

Tree Trimming Training for LLRIB Members

Considered one of Saskatchewan’s leading Vegetation Management companies, KVSLP supplies aerial tree trimming, right-of-way, brush clearing, danger tree removal, hand slashing, herbicide application, and consenting services to the utility industry. But our growth has been hampered by a shortage of Utility Tree Trimmers (UTT’s) in Saskatchewan. So Kitsaki Vegetation is training band members to fulfil that need.

Three Lac La Ronge Indian Band members with Kitsaki Vegetation have completed the academic portion of the UTT program at Olds College in Alberta.

Dexter Halkett, Jeff Ratt and Alex Mckenzie spent two weeks at the college earlier this spring and are now out putting in the hours trimming trees around power lines across the province.

Alex Mckenzie, who has been with Kitsaki for about three years now, said the first week was spent learning about working safely around power lines, trimming trees while in a bucket, climbing the trees, and about all the equipment needed to do the job. They also were taught how to recognize the different trees and pruning methods.

“Like how to cut a tree so it won’t die,” Mckenzie said. The second week was all about climbing trees. “We learned how to climb the tree, and how to rescue a guy if they get stuck,” he said.

To even get in to the course you have to put in 1,200 hours on the job. And now they need to complete 1,200 more hours on the job to become fully certified.

“This utility tree trimmer designation is like a journeyman’s ticket,” said Kitsaki Vegetation Service’s general manager Terry Helary. “It is a very specialized trade. It is one of the most dangerous trades in the world and safety is No. 1.”
It’s about a two-year process to become certified.

Dexter Halkett, who is from La Ronge, said they now know how to trim the trees properly while staying safe.

“(For example) you notch and then back cut, but then there are a couple of extra cuts you have to make up there to make sure the tree doesn’t peel and rip you down off the tree with the top you are taking off.”

For the past 10 years Halkett was cutting and clearing around power lines, but he wasn’t climbing up the poles. “It took me a while to get used to that,” he said. “I was kind of shaky getting used to heights.”
“I never wanted to climb trees,” he laughed. “But I like the climbing now.” Mckenzie said it also took him a little while to get used to climbing.

“The first time is pretty scary. You get a lot of shaking in your bones.”
So far he hasn’t had to climb too many trees because most of the time they are doing the trimming from a bucket. One of the things he likes about the job is the people. “I like working with the guys,” said Mckenzie, who is from Stanley Mission. “They are all good guys to work with.”

Jeff Ratt, who is from Sucker River, had a leg up on the others because he already had experience climbing power poles with Kitsaki. And he had taken a climbing course at Northlands College before taking this course.

“Switching over to this side was kind of the same deal,” Ratt said. “We are still working around the power lines.” They usually work in two- or three-man crews.

Ratt said on his three-man crew there is a couple on the ground hauling the brush to the chipper.
“Then we have the bucket guy who is trimming.” Ratt said he enjoys the work and the travel that takes him all over the province. “We are pretty much in a new community every week.”

Besides doing regular maintenance they are also called out to emergencies. “Especially storm damage and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

All three are comfortable working in remote locations. In fact, Mckenzie grew up on a trap line “My first memory was probably in a dog sled with my dad.” “It is really peaceful out there,” Mckenzie said, adding he was spending his week off in July back on the trap line. Ratt said they take safety very seriously. “If you are not sure about something, don’t be afraid to ask.”

Helary said that safety is a priority and one of the company’s core values. “Our guys are always working beside a power line and they always have to be aware of their surroundings and any other employees that are working with them as well.”

One other band member took the course last year and Helary said the goal is to put two members through the course each year.

“We are all about providing long-term employment opportunities for our Lac La Ronge band members.”