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Lil’wat Nation’s Tanina Williams named Top 5 finalist for Small Business BC Awards

Williams’ consulting company Amawilc has been helping clients further truth and reconciliation since 2020
Tanina Williams Pemberton by Robbie Stevens
Tanina Williams’ efforts to further truth and reconciliation through her business Amawilc have earned her high honours in the form of a Small Business BC Awards nomination.

Only two years have passed since Lil’wat Nation’s Tanina Williams launched her consulting business, Amawilc, but the Mount Currie-based businesswoman is already in the running for a major prize.

Williams was named a top-five finalist for Small Business BC’s (SBBC) Business Impact Award earlier this month, with winners slated to be announced at a gala on April 28.

Amawilc—meaning “to come back to life,” in the Lil’wat Nation’s traditional language, Ucwalmícwts—aims to bring “Indigenous ways of knowing and being” to classrooms, companies, and non-profits, Williams explained. She offers workshops built around traditional practices like sharing circles, making crafts, and storytelling; providing opportunities to “create awareness, understanding, respect and together-ness between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.” Williams also guides and supports Indigenous entrepreneurs to develop a business model that incorporates their culture and perspective.

Her first contract was a non-profit that asked for her help crafting a letter to the Lil’wat, in an effort to begin building a relationship with the First Nation.

Amawilc was selected out of 636 nominations submitted for this year’s awards, for 442 businesses in 88 communities, according to SBBC. More than 38,000 public votes narrowed down the massive field to 20 businesses, while a panel of experts determined the five finalists.

Those five businesses were each required to deliver a virtual pitch to judges this week, who are now tasked with selecting an overall winner who “embrace[s] the challenge of entrepreneurship, display their business savvy, and take positive action to invest in their community,” according to a SBBC release.

“I think it went really well,” Williams told Pique shortly after her presentation.

As it should have. While advocating for an award might be new territory for Williams, the art of successfully delivering a pitch isn’t.

Amawilc is a side hustle of sorts for Williams, complementing her day job as an Indigenous support worker for four different schools across the Sea to Sky corridor. These days, she takes meetings with clients on her lunch hour, after work and on the weekends. (She’s also preparing to graduate from Capilano University’s Language and Culture certificate program and learning her traditional language, all while finding time to spend with her husband, when she can.)

Williams doesn’t just attribute her relentless work ethic to lessons learned from her parents: “When I work at a job, I have to give 200 per cent, because I am an Indigenous female,” she explained. “If I don’t, I am looked down upon, like I’m not doing enough, and so it’s uncomfortable for me to not fill every second of my time.”

She decided to launch the venture in early 2020, after participating in an Indigenous entrepreneurship course with online training company Empowered Nations at Mount Currie’s Ts’zil Learning Centre. While she’s felt the pull of entrepreneurship before, Williams’ previous business ideas “didn’t come to fruition because they just weren’t feasible,” she explained.

“This platform came along, and it was really something I could understand in the simplest terms. They were still teaching you how to be a business person, they just changed the language so that it was understandable.”

Now, Williams’ ultimate mission is to continue the conversation about truth and reconciliation, “To talk about what it means to have equity and equality in our country; to break down barriers of unconscious and conscious biases,” she said. “Those things are very important to me.”

Williams continued, “We also need to show ourselves love, and we need to say, ‘OK, [I] made a mistake.’ Now if you need to apologize, go do that. Do the work; build those relationships up again, whatever that might look like, and be willing to forgive when other people make mistakes … we’re really at the beginning stages of truth and reconciliation.

“I would say we’re in truth; but in moving towards truth, there’s also appreciation,” she said. “Appreciation is nice, but how do we dig deeper? I have this huge, big dream to really move that forward and really get into the meat of it, but that means more work needs to be done.”

Williams’ Amawilc is nominated alongside Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters, Kamloops-based Friendly Composting Inc., Lil’ Ronnie’s BBQ in Tofino, and Saanichton beeswax wrap maker Nature Bee.

The winning business will walk away with an $8,000 prize, while second and third place will receive $4,000 and $1,500, respectively.

“Every small business is a winner in the eyes and hearts of the people they support in their community,” said Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, in a release. “I want to congratulate Amawilc for everything they’ve done for their community. As we celebrate the strength of entrepreneurs in all areas of this province, I invite all British Columbians to continue to support the small businesses in their communities.”