Jennifer Campeau (left) with federal minister Rona Ambrose at a Status of Women conference in Halifax, NS
Ambition and drive come naturally to Jennifer Campeau (MBA’09), a rookie Saskatchewan MLA for Saskatoon Fairview. Confidence in her own abilities may come less naturally, but you would never know it. Years of being stretched outside of her comfort zone has led to a keen sense of self-awareness, resulting in confidence in her own capacity to tackle whatever challenges lie before her.
A member of the Yellow Quill First Nation, Campeau was raised primarily in Saskatoon, spending some of her formative years in rural Saskatchewan and attending the residential school in Lestock, SK.
Campeau moved to the United States as a teenager, but after a failed marriage she felt the tug of home. “Like a lot of ex-pats I had went off on my own and explored. I lived in the Southern U.S. a little bit, but there was always a pull to be home and be around family. That was amplified when I had a child. I wanted her to grow up in a community where her family was there, her cousins, my family,” said Campeau.
Her drive for a better life—for her and her daughter— combined with a frustration over the employment gap between the Aboriginal population and the rest of Canada, led to an interest in business. “I started reading a lot about economics. I read about the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and their research question about why some American Indian communities are doing well and others are struggling. And what that boils down to is business and entrepreneurship.”
Campeau took courses at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Applied Technology which, thanks to joint programming with the University of Lethbridge, led to a business management degree.
Future ambitions didn’t let her stop there, even if it meant stretching her limits once again. She enrolled in the Masters in Business Administration program at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business. “Oh, there was a lot of fear,” she said with a healthy dose of laughter. “I don’t know if I’d say it’s a favourite memory, but it’s gotten me to be comfortable and confident in what I was doing. There is a focus on leadership, and I’m glad that the MBA program has that aspect to it.”
Raising a child while enrolled in a full-time MBA program presented some challenges. “My main concern was the cost of it,” explained Campeau. On top of scholarships to ease the financial burden, Campeau is grateful for the many avenues of support she received. “It was a little bit daunting and intimidating, but the university has these great supports. The Rawlco [Resource] Centre at the Edwards School of Business was phenomenal. Leanne Bellegarde [Rawlco program coordinator] was there at the time, and she was instrumental in me getting through the program.”
As if the MBA program didn’t push her security far enough, Campeau began teaching an introduction to commerce course for the college. With a confident laugh, she recalled her trial-by-fire experience in teaching. “Again that put me out of my comfort zone. It taught me a lot about myself—it was looking at information from a different lens.”
Campeau’s lifelong interest in politics brought an abrupt end to her pursuit of a PhD and her role as junior achievement coordinator for the Saskatoon Tribal Council. “There was always an interest [in politics], but it was always with Aboriginal politics, Aboriginal policy. I always thought I would be doing policy work or being the technician behind the politician, and it would be in Aboriginal politics.” But an opportunity to run in the 2011 Saskatchewan provincial election presented itself. “I didn’t think I’d make it past the nomination,” she says through laughter once again. “You know, hard work pays off.”
That different lens Campeau speaks of is what gives her the ability to reflect on challenging moments with confidence, accepting the humour—maybe even the irony—in the notion that it often takes challenges and trials to bring out the best in people.
“It’s important not to discount anybody’s abilities. A lot of people thought the odds were stacked against me being a single mother, being First Nations, and being a student. So I really think your limitations are only what you believe they are. If you believe that you can do something, then do it.”