Dawn Madahbee Leach named one of Canada’s most powerful women

Dawn Madahbee Leach, right, poses with her CIBC Trailblazer and Trendsetter recognition along with her daughter Crystal Madahbee who attended the awards gala on her mother’s behalf.

TORONTO—Dawn Madahbee Leach of Aundeck Omni Kaning, general manager at Waubetek Business Development Corporation, was recently named one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN).

Ms. Madahbee Leach was listed as a CIBC Trailblazer and Trendsetter, an award to recognize women who are first in their field and who have made a great contribution to Canadian society. Accepting the award on her behalf at a gala in Toronto last week was Ms. Madahbee Leach’s daughter Crystal Madahbee.

Since 1988, Ms. Madahbee Leach has been general manager of the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, an aboriginal financial institution that provides financing and economic services to aboriginal entrepreneurs and First Nation communities throughout Northeastern Ontario, a press release from WXN states. Under her leadership, Waubetek has proudly invested $80 million in 3,600 First Nation businesses who experience a business success rate of 94 percent. A graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Economic Development Program, Ms. Madahbee Leach also studied at York University and earned a degree in political science with a minor in law from Laurentian University.

The press release also notes that Ms. Madahbee Leach is the first aboriginal woman in Canada to head up a commercial lending institution. In 2004 she was recognized as a “mover and shaker” for economic development in the Northern Ontario Business newspaper. She was also celebrated as one of Laurentian University’s 25 Distinguished Alumni during the university’s 25th anniversary. She has also contributed chapters to two published book compilations: ‘Changing Lives: Women of Northern Ontario’ and ‘Governance in Northern Ontario – Economic Development and Policy-Making’ by Segsworth and Conteh with her chapter ‘First Nations Inclusion: A Key Requirement to Building the Northern Ontario Economy.’ She is a recipient of the Anishnawbek Nation’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the MNP-AFOA Canada Excellence in Aboriginal Leadership Award in 2017. She has been a speaker at international forums in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the UN on Indigenous economic development.

Dawn Madahbee

Ms. Madahbee Leach currently serves on various boards and committees including the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board where she serves as vice-chair. She also serves on the boards of the Peace Hills Trust Company, the Northern Policy Institute (a Northern Ontario think tank) and NioBay Minerals Inc. She is a former chairperson of the Northern Ontario Development Corporation and former board member of the Ontario Development Corporation, Innovations Ontario and the North-East Local Health Integrated Network. Ms. Madahbee Leach is the owner of Indigenous Business International, a company that provides assistance to Indigenous peoples on sector strategies and corporate partnerships.

“Sharing her knowledge on the Indigenous economy, Ms. Madahbee Leach was instrumental in the development of the National Aboriginal Economic Benchmark Report (2012) and the follow-up National Aboriginal Economic Progress Report (2015),” the press release continues. “She also co-chaired the development of the ‘Anishnawbek Nation Economic Blueprint’ which is used today by several First Nations in Ontario. Ms. Madahbee Leach also guided the establishment of the internationally renowned Great Spirit Circle Trail.”

When contacted for comment on the award, Ms. Madahbee Leach said the first thing that comes to her mind are her mom, the late Olive McGregor, daughter Crystal, her aunties, grandmothers, sisters and friends “and how hard each and every one of them have worked to make the world a better place in their own way. I’m truly blessed.”

“I think of my humble roots and where I started in life, a road that was not always easy and I always wanted to make life easier for others, especially children,” Ms. Madahbee Leach continued, adding that her work through Waubetek has allowed her to do just that.

The Expositor reached Ms. Madahbee Leach while she was making the trek to Ottawa in her capacity as vice chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board. She was unable to attend the awards gala as she was in Darwin, Australia with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that is currently working on its first Indigenous report. Ms. Madahbee Leach is the main Canadian contact for that report.

“I love working on bigger impact items that have a greater impact on all Indigenous people,” she continued. “We can really help advance who we are by focusing on culture and economic development. These are the first steps to take to strengthen us, remembering who we are and how strong we are as a people.”

Ms. Madahbee Leach said she is so proud of the businesses she and her team at Waubetek have helped to create which in turn means jobs, not only in First Nations, but throughout the entire region. “They’re raising our people up,” she said. “Little by little, it makes a difference.”