“It's not the people you're coming back for, it's the Lands, they're calling you home.”
Introducing Crystal Bourke, member of Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation near Edmonton, Alberta and our #womencrushwednesday for the month of March! Not only is Crystal the owner and digital marketing specialist of Influnuity Marketing influinity.ca and the marketing and communications coordinator for TALSAA (Treaty and Aboriginal Land Stewards Association of Alberta), she is also a mom to six children and a mentor to many.
Crystal’s unique story spans continents and cultures in a journey which ultimately brought her back home to her roots in Alberta.
Here is our conversation with Crystal Bourke:
Q: Welcome Crystal! First off, please tell us a bit about yourself and your story.
Crystal: I was born in Canada and was placed for adoption shortly after birth. I was adopted by my parents who were Dutch, and were living here in Alberta - I grew up in Pincher Creek. My parents decided to relocate back to Europe when I was eight to provide us with a better education. So, I spent most of my youth and adulthood in the Netherlands. Then, in 2006, I moved to Denmark because a friend of mine told me that there were lots of job opportunities. So, I was like, why not try it? I moved to Denmark, spent six years there, and then came back to Canada in 2012. I have happily been here since then, I've always wanted to come home.
Q: So, it sounds like you really consider Canada to be your home even though you grew up overseas. Can you explain or describe the connection you feel?
Crystal: Yes, there's always been that connection. I remember living in Holland and in the evenings, I was always looking westward as a young child, to where the sun sets. And I knew that at some point in time, I was going to come back home. Growing up, I was always homesick for here, but I couldn't really understand why. I didn't have friendship connections from my youth in Canada that still existed at that point in time. I didn't really understand that part until I spoke to an Elder after I came back home who told me,
“It's not the people you're coming back for, it's the lands, they're calling you home.”
And that really, really sat with me. That’s why I had the drive to come back home.
I feel at home here. For not having been connected for so long, I recognize myself in the laughter of my people, I recognize small little traits that, you know I can’t recognize in my adoptive family or the ways of doing things, that I did, that were considered different. But then I found out that that's just who I am, like, deep down in my core. I'm really proud of where I'm from and my heritage.
And I'm proud of my adoptive family. It’s always been a balancing skill as an adoptee to reconcile those two parts- of having an adoptive family and then having your biological family. My dad always said, you get the best of both worlds. You get to walk in those two places. On the other hand, there's the downside too - sometimes it's hard to figure out. “Who am I?” “Where do I belong?” But I think I have, at the age of 40, a good grip on who I am and where I want to go in this journey of life.
Q: What was your view of your Indigenous culture as a young person, living and growing up in Europe?
Crystal: I had a very naïve view of my own culture, and although my parents tried to immerse us in our culture as much as they could while living in Canada, taking us to pow wows and things like that, it was limited at that time in the 80’s. So, it wasn't until I moved back home to Canada that I really got to get a general understanding of Indigenous culture, who my people are and what we went through. It was a culture shock to the system to learn about the 60s scoop, to learn about residential school, and I know that information has just come up in mainstream society, but it's been known with Indigenous peoples for a very long time.
Part of me is very European in my ways of doing certain things, as I didn't grow up in my own culture. I didn't grow up with my language. I don't know my own traditions, or values, or how we do things. So, when I moved back to Canada, I always say it was like I “inhaled” my Indigenous culture. I inhaled being Indigenous, and learning what that is and how unique and distinct all Indigenous cultures are from each other. For me, that is still a huge learning journey. Trying to reconnect, for me, that's always been a big driver in who I was from a very young age. My parents were always very open to us about being adopted. Very open about us finding our way home and re-connecting.
Q: So, between living in Europe and now back in Canada, how many languages do you speak?
Crystal: Three fluently - Dutch, English and Danish. I understand German to a certain extent, French and Spanish. But, I always tell people:
"I can speak seven languages. Not one of them is my own."
Q: We hear you are working on learning that one also?
Crystal: Yeah! I managed to hop onto a course this past fall and even though I joined late to the program, the teachers were amazing, very helpful and encouraging to me in speaking Stoney (the language of her nation).
An elder told me: To understand where you come from as a person, you need to know your language to fully understand who you are. And so, I took that opportunity. But boy, it was a learning curve. Oh, it wasn't even a curve. I hit a wall!
It's so different from any language out there. With Danish and Dutch, I could even see similarities in certain words. And you can recognize that, but not with my own. My own language was just, like, very new - I'm going to take all opportunities to be a life-long learner.
Q: Can you tell us more about your marketing and communications business and the services you offer?
Crystal: I work mostly with small business - young and starting entrepreneurs up to medium sized enterprises. Of course, the goal is to grow in the future, but right now it's a one-woman operation and the focus has been entrepreneurs that request help, whether it's with social media, social media management or help with SEO, Graphic design, or website development. There are clients that ask for things that I have experience in that I don’t necessarily have advertised on my website. You know- business planning, where do I start as an entrepreneur- registering my business and my trademark and how does this business plan work? And a marketing plan, what is that? How does that work? How do I brand my business? So even though it’s not part of my core business, I still like to help people.
Marketing was always kind of a part of what I did throughout my work life experiences. And even if it wasn't, it was something that I always liked being involved in because it's that creative outlet for me. I like my job because that creativity is a very strong factor in who I am.
Q: How did you get started with your business?
Crystal: I was working for a college institution, and I was hoping to continue my job remotely but that was denied. So, I took leave and a friend of mine said, well, why don't you start out on your own? I mean, you're good at what you do. She was one of my mentors, still is, and she sowed that initial seed into my heart and it grew from there.
So, I started working on my business, doing my business plan, sweating hard, doing my PESTLE and SWOT analysis. I cried and really thought, can I do this? This is scary, what if I don't generate income for my family? What am I going to do? It ended up well. I got clients before my company even launched into cyberspace, thanks to networking with other people, which is a major asset to my business and how I connect with potential clients.
While working on my business, I also came across TALSAA’s job and applied for it. The job is great because , in my capacity as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator, I help with providing training opportunities for our members to learn about topics within First Nations Lands Management and promote in general, information about what First Nations Lands Management is.
The way that I run it right now is I work exclusively for TALSAA during the daytime from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. And my business is run outside those hours. Often, I'm up at 4:00 am, I work until seven. Then, I’ve got to get my kids ready for school, and drop them off. Then in the evenings, once they're in bed, there's usually another additional two to three hours of work that gets put in for my business. It’s tough sometimes, but I feel happy and balanced in my work and personal life, and prioritizing my time.
Q: How do find balance with such a busy life?
Crystal: Organizational skills and consistency are really a big thing in my house. We don’t deviate much when it comes to work and school days but, my weekends are sacred. My weekends are dedicated to my kids and spending time with them, and spending time with friends and family. There will be the occasional one-off where work might be during a weekend, but my kids understand that I am doing this all for them, I want to show them that anything is possible, but you have to put your own work into it. This is how my parents raised me and my brother, and it’s important for me to pass this along to my kids.
Q: You are a very busy person! What motivates you to keep going?
Crystal: I really believe in the fact that, if you work hard and you know it's a passion for you, it makes your work life good and it’s easier. Having my kids in the back of my mind, of who I'm doing it for, is a major driver, alongside the amazing clients that I meet along the way and where they're trying to go, and the goals they are trying to achieve. It's great to be a part of that in my own small way.
I was talking to a friend yesterday - I was providing her with some step-by-step information on what she needs to do to start her business. You know, I'm not right off the bat holding my hand out saying now you’ve got to pay me, because I helped you. No, this is me helping or assisting someone else get to where they’re going in their business journey and that's definitely a big thing for me. I said to her:
“As women, together, in business …if we can't help each other rise, then what is really our purpose here?”
Q: Who are some of your clients that you work with through your business?
Crystal: I've worked with clients in high performance computing, and others have been small businesses - a motivational self-esteem program, Indigenous-focused programming, start-up businesses, those kinds of things. It’s nice to get clients from different industries, because you learn about that while working with them and seeing the passion, they have for what they are doing.
Q: What changes do you see happening in your industry?
Crystal: The landscape is changing constantly, and I think one of the things at the forefront right now is the use of Artificial Intelligence in the marketing and business sphere. It’s been up and coming over the years, whether it's the chat bots on websites or developing programs that write content for you, or shopping in 3D - it's fantastic. It's amazing. I always like to keep track of these changes in the marketing landscape.
Q: What’s next for you with your business, and what changes do you see happening in the next five years?
Crystal: Right now, I'm focused on looking back into my company and seeing whether or not I need to redesign my own strategy based on what people are actually needing and requesting from me.
I think the challenge for me is that I love doing workshops. I love facilitating training, I love helping and supporting people. I just don't want to lose the creative aspect within my business. And so for me, I think for the next three to six months I’m going to figure out whether I'm going to change directions in my business or really focus on the creative core of what I do.
Q: Let’s wrap up with this: What’s a personal motto that guides you through each day?
Crystal: My parents raised me with a very open view of life. My dad compares it to those blinders, you know how horses sometimes wear those eye covers. He says that you're going to meet people in your life that look at the world like this, just what they can see in front of them. But I want you to look at the world with no blinders on, that every person has a place in this world. That's how I was raised. I don't know if that also helps me with interacting with a lot of different people and having lived a few different places, you know? It opens your eyes up to different cultures, different traditions, and to me, it's all amazing.
I have a broad spectrum of all kinds of friends. I think everybody has a story to share and I always like learning about other people's stories because you can learn something from it.
“If I didn't learn something on a daily basis, then I didn't live my day.”
Like what you're reading? Our WCW campaign is named for the women it features. The women we profile are at the forefront of their fields, all while balancing home life and the challenges of 21st century politics, environment, and reconciliation. And they are – quite frankly – crushing it. See some of our prior #wcw posts here: Erin Knight, Cheyenna Campbell, Kaitlin Littlechild, Samantha Noganosh, Jasmine Labelle, Megan Crow Shoe, Juanita Starr
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