Commitment to community puts young entrepreneur over the top

July 28, 2011

Massey Whiteknife has turned believing in himself into believing in others. And that was the difference that earned him the Youth Entrepreneur Award of Distinction from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.

“The way he’s also educating people so they can be employed in this field of work, we really felt like that was kind of giving back to the community from quite a sustainable type of thing,” said Christi Millar, director of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which sponsored the award.

Whiteknife, who had his mother and a mentor at his side, was shocked to receive the award at the March 4 ceremony held in Edmonton.

“It was really unbelievable,” he said. “When I won, I freaked.”

People were clapping and he was screaming. Up on stage, Whiteknife cried.

It has been a long haul for Whiteknife, who opened ICEIS Safety as a one-man shop in 2005 in Fort McMurray. He now employs nine.

Whiteknife’s climb to success began before he went into business for himself. It began with fighting abuse as a child. He was physically abused by his father, sexually abused by a neighbour, and a target for bullies almost everyday in school.

When he began his operations in Fort McMurray he was told by many that as an openly gay Aboriginal man in a tough oil town he wouldn’t succeed.

He proved everyone wrong.

Over the years, ICEIS Safety has evolved from offering safety consulting for Aboriginal businesses to offering hope to other Aboriginals.

In the past two years, Whiteknife began a joint venture with another company to facilitate training courses in Fort McKay. He started a Construction Safety Officer mentorship program where he put 14 Aboriginal people through school. All the trainees finished the course and all are still employed in the field.

As well, Whiteknife designed the Get Ready program, which takes trainers to remote communities, where they teach 16 safety awareness courses over six days. The trainer offers 24-hour assistance. When the course is concluded, Whiteknife distributes the resumes of those who have been trained.

“My main goal is to help Aboriginals in the community,” said Whiteknife.

Also nominated with Whiteknife for the Youth Entrepreneur Award of Distinction were Executive Airways Grooming Services and NATION Imagination, both of Calgary, and DevFacto Technologies Inc., of Edmonton.

Whiteknife was selected by a panel of judges. Said Millar, “They really thought that he was a guy who started out, he didn’t have a lot of dollars, didn’t have a lot of support. He just showed that true entrepreneurial spirit of working hard and digging deep and following his passion.”

“I hope it will give me more credibility. This is Alberta recognizing me and my business,” said Whiteknife.

Whiteknife shared the stage with nine others that evening. Taking the Premiers Award, the most prestigious award of distinction, was PTI Group Inc., of Edmonton. In part PTI was recognized for its work in northern Alberta where it engages First Nations and Métis members, both in supporting their communities and local economics as well as providing jobs.

Other awards of distinction winners with Aboriginal connections were Lesser Slave Lake Management Services Ltd. (Slave Lake) for the Eagle Feather; Janice Larocque, Spirit Staffing and Consulting Inc. (Calgary), for Aboriginal Woman Entrepreneur; Ghost River Rediscovery Society (Calgary) for Diversity Leadership; and United Protection Services Inc. (Edmonton) for Aboriginal Relations-Best Practice.