New TV show features Indigenous entrepreneurs on national stage

Amanda Balsillie on the set of Bears' Lair in Vancouver. ( Photo by Angel Lynne)

Amanda Balsillie is one of 18 contestants competing for the grand prize of $100,000 as part of APTN’s first reality TV series called Bears’ Lair.

“I am very proud to be representing as a contestant from the North,” she says.

Balsillie discusses the importance of trauma-informed counselling, due to the effects of colonization. (Photo by Angel Lynne)

Originally from Yellowknife, she attributes her journey as a social worker and now CEO of her own company, Four Directions Holistic Counselling, to the hardships she’s endured living in Northern Canada.

“I’ve had to live through that intergenerational trauma,” she says, “But I’ve learned from those experiences and those experiences have made me (the) stronger person I am today.”

As a child she remembers, sitting outside the post office with her uncle–a commonplace in town for Street people to socialize.

Through those experiences, she learned first-hand the effects of homelessness.

She even remembers giving beloved Yellowknifer and advocate, Margaret Thrasher her teddy bear.

Balsillie at the age of six in Yellowknife. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Balsillie)

“I felt comfortable around those people,” she says, “they’re not people to be scared of. They have lives, they have feelings, and they deserve a chance as well.”

She highlights certain social barriers such as the lack of health services, adequate physicians and mental health supports available that ultimately lead to further addictions, higher suicide and poverty rates.

Balsillie and her grandmother in Peace River Alberta, at her Fairview College graduation. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Balsillie)

Balsillie thanks her grandmother, Anne, for being the guiding matriarch that taught her those holistic Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

Now Balsillie gets to bring her unique journey, wisdom and services to the rest of Canada via Bears’ Lair.

“It opened a whole new world to me that I didn’t even realize there were so many Indigenous people, business leaders in health services that really want to help Indigenous entrepreneurs grow, be successful, be able to thrive on their own,” she says.

“This is a new area that Indigenous people have not been able to participate in,” she adds.

Focusing on Indigenous knowledge, while also breaking down western ideals is key to her practice. Things like living off the land, picking medicines and horseplay are all part of healing, she says.

Her next hurdle is in completing her 1600-hour clinical certification in addition to a written exam to further her practice.

‘Absolute opposite of any entrepreneur game show’

Geena Davis brings Indigenous entrepreneurs and business leaders to the forefront through her new TV series. (Photo by Angel Lynne)

Geena Jackson is the creator and one of the core judges for Bears’ Lair.

She is part of the Shíshálh Nation in British Columbia.

Unlike Dragons’ Den or Shark Tank, she had a different vision–one based on ‘co-opetition’ and economic reconciliation.

“Economic reconciliation is giving Indigenous people the opportunity to have a place at economic growth and wealth for themselves, their community, but also making a social impact and a difference in the world that we live in,” she says.

After APTN accepted her pitch, Jackson was tasked with raising the funds for the show on her own.

The show focuses primarily on mentoring, training, and guiding entrepreneurs on their journey, as opposed to the western structure of judges gaining capital by owning a percentage of the proposed business.

Coaching sessions were offered to candidates long before the contestants were even chosen, she says.

“We set the stage, so the studio had a beautiful circular carpet with four bears so that the judges were eye level, and we weren’t looking down at people,” she says.

Jackson (centre) with other Bears’ – Tabatha Bull, Robert Louie, Dave Tuccaro and Guest Judge, Monica James. (Photo by Angel Lynne)

Creating a safe space was crucial in her inception of the show. Even Hereditary Chief Gibby Jacob was in attendance to offer his blessings as part of the Squamish Nation.

“It’s going to be entertaining, it’s going to be heartwarming, it’s going to be the absolute opposite of any entrepreneur game show that there is,” she says, “We are going to promote everybody and move them forward.”

With a cast and crew of about 80 per cent Indigenous people, Bears’ Lair will air 9 episodes at 22 min a piece on Sept 6.

“I wanted the viewer to see the culture to see the emotion, to see the feelings, to see the togetherness to see the co-opetition. And really know what Indigenous communities are about,” she says.

Jackson is currently in negotiations with APTN to secure a second season of Bears’ Lair, if she is successful applications will be open nationwide in the fall.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. Mariah is excited to begin her journey and career in Yellowknife, NWT, and get involved with the community. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com