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A Career Inspired by Culture: Providing a Role Model for Native American Youth

Empowered by her First Nations culture and community, Kalina Newmark says that her professional aspirations have been inspired largely by her personal life and experiences.

“My background and culture definitely influence me as a person and how I try and advocate for my people,” says Newmark, whose is an enrolled member of the Tulita Dene Band in the Northwest Territories of Canada. In Canada, First Nations is the term used to describe the first peoples.

Eager to know more about her heritage, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies and anthropology, modified with linguistics, from Dartmouth College, interning with the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs one summer. But when it came to a career, she found herself drawn to business — much like her father, who is CEO of a construction company.

After working in various roles at Cargill for several years following her college graduation, Newmark decided to take the next step on her professional journey and earn her MBA. In May, she graduated from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business as a Consortium fellow.

Newmark recently spoke with us about her Dene heritage, her interest in business and her desire to merge the two.

Having just graduated, what do you plan to do now?

I interned with Johnson & Johnson last summer, and I really loved my experience there and was actually [extended] an offer, but I declined it because I want to be closer to my family. I’m currently looking for marketing roles on the West Coast — in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles. So right now, I plan to spend time with my family, friends and loved ones; continue recruiting; and enjoy my time before I start working.

Can you tell me a little about your background and upbringing as a Tulita Dene growing up in the Northwest Territories?

The Northwest Territories is my home. I have many special memories in Tuktoyaktuk and Tulita, such as cooking out on the fire in my grandmother’s teepee, fishing with my godparents on Rendez-vous Lake and staying up all night during the midnight sun.

Growing up, my mother instilled Dene teachings in our household. I heard stories of sacrifice, resilience and survival that involved my grandmother, great grandmother and great aunts. I have immense pride knowing that I come from a strong line of Dene women.

Although I spent the majority of my time growing up in British Columbia, I always knew the Northwest Territories was my home. Every break, we would return to the Northwest Territories to be with family and loved ones. For this, I am especially grateful to my parents [as it helped] ensure that we would never forget where we came from.

What role has your Native American culture played in your life, and what values did it instill in you that still guide your life today?

In Dene culture, we have our own set of laws. Laws that guide us as [individuals] and as a community. The ones I think of often are “share what you have,” “help each other” and “pass on the teachings.” I utilize these laws to guide my life and to give back to my community, [which I do] by serving on the American Indian Cancer Foundation’s board, leading Dartmouth’s partnership with the Indian Health Service and volunteering at First Nations organizations.

I come from a family of leaders. My grandmother Laura Lennie was a leader within the Métis community, my great grandfather Albert Wright was the first chief of Tulita, my aunt Ethel Blondin-Andrew was the first First Nations woman elected to Canada’s Parliament, and my uncle Norman Yakeleya is the Dene National Chief. I use these achievements and stories of success from my family as inspiration and guidance for my own leadership. Although I am still learning what it means to be a Dene person, I try my best each and every day to represent my family, community and nation well.

Within my business career, I have met few First Nations professionals. For this reason, I think it’s especially important to highlight our successes. Like my ancestors before me, I try to be a good person, with the hope [that I] inspire the next generation of Dene leaders.

Why did you decide to study Native American studies and anthropology at Dartmouth?

I studied Native American history as a way to understand my life experiences and to honor those who came before me. Through these classes, I gained a greater understanding of the colonial tactics used by governments to oppress First Nations peoples by taking away our languages, our right to vote and the ability to raise our children within First Nations communities and cultures.

Growing up as a Dene person, I experienced life much differently than my non-First Nations peers. My mother, a survivor of the residential school system, instilled in me the power of education. Despite the fact that residential schools tried to assimilate First Nations people, I have used my education as a tool to create good in this world.

What led to your decision to pursue business as a career?

I’ve always been interested in business — partly due to my dad being a CEO. Even as a young kid, I would go to work with my dad pretending to be his assistant. It’s funny because I hear stories now and I just laugh. One day, for example, when my dad brought me into his office, I took over his desk with coloring pens and books. Even though he had an important meeting that day, he allowed me to stay.

In one way or another, I’ve always been around and had a natural interest in business.

What has it meant to you to be a Consortium fellow?

Newmark with Peter Aranda

I remember the first time I met Peter Aranda, executive director and CEO of The Consortium, and how excited I was to be in his presence. As a fellow First Nations person, Peter gave me hope. He showed me that, as First Nations people, we can be successful in business, too.

The Consortium’s mantra of “be proud, be gracious, be humble and be ready” reminds me of our Dene Laws. Our success is not ours alone but the culmination of those who came before us. For this, I am grateful to Peter and The Consortium for giving me the opportunity to grow as a leader and to be of service to my community.

In addition to pursuing your professional goals, why is it important to you to remain connected to and involved with native communities?

Being of service and giving back to my community is my responsibility as a Dene person. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the sacrifices and the love and support that I’ve received from my family and my community.

Is your hope to secure a position that allows you to use your MBA to serve Native communities?

Yes, that’s ultimately my goal. Right now, though, I would love to be able to be at a company where I can continue to grow my skill set while at the same time be able to volunteer and serve my community.

Are there other ways you’ve tried to pay it forward?

A prominent Dartmouth donor once told me, “There are three ways to give back: You can give back your time, you can give back your skills or you can give back your money. At certain points in your life, you may be able to give one or more [of these].” Right now, I do my best to give back in whatever ways I can through all three of these.

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