Meet Karis Goodswimmer. Karis is a member of Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation and currently lives in Edmonton with her five-year-old daughter, Isabella. Karis is also a recent graduate of the Ballad Foundations in Hospitality Training Program for Indigenous Youth. Karis credits the many women role models in her life and throughout the program in helping her reach her goals.
Before joining the program, Karis worked as a shop hand in a metal shop and had dreams of being a millwright. Like many Albertans, she was devasted when she was laid off as a result of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. Karis was motivated to apply her skills and interests in a new field of work to support her daughter, but she wasn’t sure where to start. In the summer of 2020, her mom and biggest supporter tagged her in a Facebook post promoting the new Ballad hospitality training program.
“I didn’t think that I would need it but I called and inquired anyways. Cathy answered and to my surprise, she wanted to have an interview with me. At the time, I had been at home for two months, doing nothing and feeling depressed… So, I decided to attend the interview. I had nothing better to do. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Karis was invited for an interview with Cathy Gagne, an Employment Specialist at Ballad.
“I was greeted by the happy and bubbly person, that I know as Cathy. Throughout my interview, I wanted to be professional and friendly but then my interest was sparked. It reminded me of my dreams of becoming a General Manager.”
Karis was accepted to the program and was joined by a group of Indigenous youth seeking a career in the hospitality industry. The first day of the program started with a grounding ceremony, and knowledge sharing led by Dr. Patricia Makokis.
“The first week was so interesting, meeting Dr. Makokis and her husband, Eugene, it made me so overwhelmed with pride that I was proud to be Indigenous and made me want to be more in touch with my heritage. I went home and cried because I found a piece of me that was missing.”
Karis talked about the inspiring women in the program and in her life that encouraged her to pursue further training and to reach her career goals. Most notably, Karis has three women in her life that inspire her and that she looks up to: her mother, Haley Wickenheiser, and Cathy Gagne.
“My first role model is my mother. She is the strongest most resilient person I have ever met. The second is Haley Wickenheiser. She’s a hockey player, Olympian, and a doctor. She is really everything I want to be; there’s nothing she can’t do. And finally my mentor Cathy at Ballad. She has really changed my life. When I first met her she was this ball of sunshine, and she radiates positivity. She inspired me to be so much more than I thought.”
After graduation, Karis decided to apply her new employment and essential skills in a rewarding job with Alberta Health Services. Karis continues to be inspired by the women health practitioners she works with. She’s even considering going back to school to pursue a career in medicine.
“COVID-19 made me learn about myself, in a way that I wouldn’t have before. I believe that everyone has a life path, I am now on mine.”
COVID-19 has impacted women disproportionally to men. As the sole caregiver for her daughter, Karis is determined to keep making choices so that she can be a role model and inspiration for her daughter.
“I feel like being a woman, and an Indigenous woman, in a man’s world is a big challenge. Yes, it’s hard but it won’t stop me from achieving my goals. My life is different now, I feel like I can do anything and all because of this program.”
The Foundations in Hospitality Program for Indigenous Youth is funded by the Government of Canada’s Youth and Employment Skills Strategy.
Photos by Ray Watkins.