PowHERhouse Portrait | Carol Anne Hilton
Carol Anne is a recognized First Nation’s business leader with an international Master’s Degree in Business Management (MBA) from the University of Hertfordshire, England. She’s the CEO of Transformation International, an award-winning First Nation Social and Economic Development company, and of Nuu-chah-nulth descent from the Hesquiaht Nation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Her Nuu-chah-nulth name means big sister which indicates that she comes from a line of the oldest woman. Carol Anne belongs to the first generation out of residential school. Deeply influenced by this, she upholds it as an important responsibility. Her life has been an exploration of meaning, personal responsibility, and a quest to finding her voice and saying what’s important for her. She’s driven by a desire to help create a positive shift in the lived realities of Indigenous peoples.
Describe your Mission. What’s it all about for you?
“What drives me is facilitating innate potential. I am interested in this transformative experience to shift towards self and collective empowerment and well-being. In my business, that looks like facilitating Indigenous community social and economic empowerment.”
Carol Anne explains in her recent PowHERtalk that she believes her ancestors saw the oncoming onslaught of the establishment of residential schools, reserve systems, children being taken away, disease, addictions, violence and a changed way of life – and prayed for their continuance as a people. And in these prayers, they set the intention of a people who live free.
Growing up in the shadow of alcoholism, addictions, and violence doesn’t define who Carol Anne is, but it has become her mission to change the stories around such things. Raised in the foster care system, her family was deeply fragmented because of residential school. Her mother had five children, all in care. And both her parents died violent, unnecessary deaths, far too young. Taking with them a whole generation of grandparents for the grandchildren that are here today. She grew tired of living in terror of being a statistic.
The story she aims to tell isn’t one of hopelessness, anger, or addictions, but one about putting the fragments together and becoming whole again. She remembers as a young child thinking when she grew up, she just wanted to be happy. At a young age, she believed education was the only escape, so she learned voraciously and found her voice. She remembers meeting her grandmother, holding her hands and the woman looking at her and saying welcome home.
“Welcome home to yourself. Do you know who you are?”
Carol Anne became a mother at a young age. Terrified, she’d never held a baby before. Her journey along that path of raising her daughter was about transforming that fear of not being able to be a mother and mending the disconnection, changing that intergenerational story.
“There’s a story in our culture of a double-headed sea serpent, a gruesome and frightful sight. The story goes if you come across one, you have two choices – you can run away in fear but you’ll run forever, or you can stand in your own truth and light and when you do – the sea serpent sees it’s other head and collapses into itself.”
Carol Anne believes in the power of facing your fears head-on. It was important to her to transform what she didn’t yet have words for. She wrote and produced a CD for her daughter called Mother and Child, with the expression of love and the intention to heal, to live in wholeness for her daughter, herself, her mother, and grandmother. To change her story and bring those fragments back together, Carol Anne had to believe she had the potential to be a great mother. And it turns out she was right, today she celebrates her journey with her daughter Cecilia.
She built her platform and got clear about what she wanted to say: “for anyone raised in care, there’s a dull, thudding, resounding, aching emptiness that pounds in your chest, fills your mind and follows you in your lifetime. I felt and lived in this emptiness until a moment of profound reflection came that was an answer to my own question of how can I be happy? I am responsible for filling that emptiness. I fill it every day with love, joy, and intention.”
Carol Anne now works to transform the cycles of intergenerational trauma to live in happiness and with purpose. To live what her ancestors prayed for – to be free.
After obtaining an international MBA, Carol Anne is now the CEO of a successful award-winning social economic development company, Transformation International, with her partner Ainjil Hunt, she’s led the establishment of a new line of thought movement called Indigenomics, building and developing local Indigenous economies, and authoring ‘Indigenomics – a Global Power Shift’.
Transformation’s work has been recognized with a BC Aboriginal Outstanding Business Achievement Award, a Creating Wealth Award from the National Indigenous Council of Elders and Business of the Year Award from the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation. Carol Anne was also recently nominated for work in multi-culturalism by the BC Government and was nominated for the Top 100 Powerful Women in Canada.
Biggest highlight in your career/journey thus far?
“Authoring Indigenomics – A Global Power Shift has been an important journey for me to date. Establishing Indigenomics has allowed me to create space for economic justice, facilitate economic reconciliation and establish a space in consciousness that allows for another worldview that centers on Indigenous wealth and relationships. Indigenomics has taken off within Canada, and globally it has taken me to Bolivia, Guatemala, Hawaii, and beyond. I recently participated in a W20 consultation for input into the G20 and led Indigenous discussions at the forum. The recommendations established were directed to the G20 leadership. Understanding the role of Indigenomics in these national and international discussions has been so uplifting.
I recently traveled to Chile for Global Affairs Canada to work with the Canadian Chilean Embassy and spoke to Indigenous Entrepreneurs, municipalities and Indigenous groups. I was also honored to MC at the World Indigenous Business forum in Santiago while I was there.”
What has been pivotal or useful in your career success?
“Obtaining my international MBA was the best career decision, it equipped me with a responsive skill set for community development and less theoretical and academic based learnings. Success to me means living in wholeness, living with the ability to create the appropriate response within my life. I recognize that today’s Indigenous reality is formed on the historical fragmented reality of our communities and families. Learning my language is an important aspect of healing that fragmentation. My success indicator right now is developing fluency in learning to speak my traditional language.”
How would you describe what brings you the greatest joy in your current role?
“I love the quote, ‘When sleeping women rise, mountains move.’ Our people are awakening, it brings me joy to see community empowerment and Indigenous women rising and living and creating beyond fabricated limitations.”
What would you like women to most understand or consider – on a higher level – with regards to your role and mission?
“Say YES to the universe when it provides an opportunity. Staying outside your comfort zone is essential. I’m constantly uncomfortable, I push my limits and say yes to possibilities. Continue expanding your skill set, form new experiences and seek out possibilities where you can.”
What would be your top three tips for women regarding walking their talk and courageously approaching what is most important to them?
- Pay attention to your confidence and inner dialogue.
- You do not have to believe everything you think.
- Go beyond; know the value you deliver.
How do you balance between being an impactful community leader, a busy professional, volunteer and so much more without dodging your own self-care?
“I need to be fit to live a high-energy life. I need high-vibration food to live at a high-vibration. I avoid conversations without purpose. Being aware of my energy levels is essential to managing them and being at my best.
Staying physically fit keeps my mind fit. Staying on top of my game means engaging in meaningful conversations and constant learning. Learning my traditional language while I am traveling keeps me connected to my own Indigenous worldview.”
Morning ritual to set your state positively and powHERfully:
“I like to challenge myself to do 10 healthy things before 9 am! Whether it’s exercising, or vitamins or what I put in my body, I enjoy the challenge.”
What giving back looks like:
“Giving back to me means focusing on positive yes’s. I always communicate that if I can help, I will. Being accessible.”
If you could display a 1-line message in Times Square that would be televised to women around the world, what would it say?
“Think for yourself!”
What do you feel your most valuable lessons to pass on to young women are?
“Nurturing confidence and self-image is important. Asking questions and forming relationships with older women is helpful and insightful.
My Grandmother told me at a young age to expect respect. Being able to define when and how you feel respected is important to form positive boundaries both in your personal and professional life. Expect respect, it’s a way of life.”
Where do we go from here in terms of supporting and inspiring women to step-up and continue moving forward with their missions, regardless of how hard it may feel at times?
“We live in a social world today – know how and where you want to create impact. We can create networks of knowledge and support to move us toward what we want to create. Be aware of your network.”
Carol Anne currently serves as Director of the McGill University Institute for the Study of Canada and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network. She’s also an instructor at Simon Fraser University’s Community Economic Development Program and faculty lead at the Banff Center’s Indigenous Business Program where she’s a Fleck Fellow. She was recently appointed as a senior advisor on the Canadian Federal Economic Growth Council that advises the Federal Finance Minister Morneau on Canadian economic growth.
Drawing on inspiration from the greatness of her ancestors, Carol Anne Hilton embodies resilience as a woman we truly celebrate.