The 2023 Women of the Year Awards: Equity and Inclusion Champion – Winner

The winner for the Equity and Inclusion Champion category of The 2023 Women of the Year Awards is Elaine Alec, founder and owner of Naqsmist.

Credit: Deb Kühl

Elaine Alec
Founder and owner, Naqsmist

When Elaine Alec was young, her mom would always make comments and think out loud. 

“We’d drive by this whole field of baby’s breath and my mom would say something
like, ‘I bet if you gathered all that baby’s breath and went down to Art Knapp or the flower place, you could sell it to them,'” she recalls.

Alec is from the Syilx and Secwepemc nations. Her mother, who went to residential school and struggled with alcoholism, passed away when Alec was 19. But she left Alec with lessons that she still thinks about today, like: “If somebody says no to you, you just find another way to navigate,” or “I never want you to get stuck in a system of dependency, because if you get stuck there, you’re never going to get out.”

Alec has walked a long road since then. The Penticton native faced racism, bullying and abuse as a child, and struggled to navigate harmful systems and institutions her whole life. And even though she has fond memories of picking cherries with her mom from 4 a.m. to noon (and then making a beeline for the concession stand), she lived in poverty for a while.

“I was always told that I would never amount to anything and never make it anywhere,” she adds. Yet, even after battling alcoholism and addictions, Alec lights up as she talks about her 20-year career as an entrepreneur and consultant. She now lives in Kamloops with her husband and three kids and has self-published a book on overcoming trauma and loss.

Last year, she stepped back from Alderhill Planning, an Indigenous-owned firm she co-founded in 2008, to grow her consulting business full-time. She delivers training and learning experiences through Naqsmist’s Cultivating Safe Spaces framework to help people understand decolonization and reconciliation. And in decolonizing her own business, she doesn’t own any IP or copyright for it but instead tackles problematic systems from a place of faith and trust.

“I do a lot of this work for people who want to shift their policies and their processes to make them more inclusive,” she says. “I don’t need to control and own everything in order to make money and empower people.”

According to Alec, her business made $360,000 in 2022 and is already sitting on $600,000 this year after switching to full-time with seven employees. 

Through Naqsmist, Alec demonstrates “what it means when matriarchs get into business and redistribute wealth amongst each other,” because she understands how unsafe systems affect talent recruitment and retention. 

Her voice grows thick recalling how, in her role as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs’ Women’s Representative, every woman she spoke to in political spaces had been sexually assaulted or raped. “I remember saying, One day, Im going to build something where women dont have to be afraid.”