From the Rodeo to Consultant on the Road: Carter Yellowbird Finds Opportunities with his MBA
“I worked my heart out to get to where I'm at. I think where I got my drive from was from the rodeo,” explains Carter Yellowbird. He is a member of the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta, just south of Edmonton and he works with organizations, government, and First Nations to find opportunities to maximize their potential. He has three kids, travels a lot for work and while he’s busy creating opportunities, he’s also working hard on healing as he fights cancer.
With an MBA, a Bachelor of Arts in Native Studies and a Bachelor of Commerce degree, one might think Yellowbird headed straight to post-secondary but that’s not the case. He got busy riding rodeo, working in movies, in Paris, in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and so many other adventures before he went from the saddle back to school. He was the first Cree calf-roper in the Calgary Stampede. He had dropped out in grade 8 but later went back for his GED, then an MBA.
“I knew that I needed to get educated because rodeo wasn’t gonna be here for the rest of my life.”
Yellowbird saw his education as an insurance policy to protect him when his body started to give out. Rodeo wasn’t going to be a forever career and having an education to fall back on at the end of his ride was going to be important. He also knew that his MBA would give him credibility, that people would take him seriously and that doors would open for him when he had it.
On the rodeo circuit, Yellowbird faced his fears head on and that practice came in handy when he walked into his local college with a piece of paper and a pencil on orientation day. That was a different kind of scary experience for him but with a clear head he could remember what he learned in eighth grade. He persevered for two years to get his diploma.
One of the ways he motivated himself was sharing with others about his goals and objectives. He would want to reach his goals for them instead of just for himself. These days, he lets his actions do the talking, getting out there and achieving things instead of boasting about his MBA. He learned a thing or two about overcoming adversity, when torn ligaments derailed his hockey career and when his horse died after a rodeo. That’s why he says that everything has a purpose.
Now as an independent consultant, Yellowbird is his own boss and that motivation is crucial because the work is non-stop. He often wakes in the middle of the night with ideas that he needs to email and he drafts something before falling back asleep to revisit it in the morning. “Your mind doesn't stop as a consultant. It's not for everybody. It's a tough job, but I picked this career and it's working for me. I like where I'm at right now,” he grins.
Reflecting on the advice he has for any youth who might be thinking about leaving their community to go learn and broaden their horizons, he has words of wisdom to share. “Culture is always going to be there. No matter what you do, where you go, your people are always going to be there. They're not going to vanish overnight. So you have to take that chance,” he urges. “I think the biggest thing that we're faced with is the fear of change…I just tell people to go out there and persevere, keep trying to see what's out there,” he continues.
“One of the best things we have is our culture… The culture is the history of our people.”
To take care of himself during his downtime, Yellowbird attends ceremonies and looks to his culture. With the end of his chemo journey in sight, he has a lot to hope for. “As long as I'm here and alive, I’ve got a purpose here and I'm going to keep on going. You’ve just gotta keep trying, no matter what,” he offers. As a cancer survivor and a day school survivor, he’s been through a lot and he keeps trying. He wishes he had the chance to learn his father’s songs but he keeps hoping they will come to him.
Ultimately, what he’s learned is a lesson about imperfection and hard work. “You have to understand that nothing's perfect and there's challenges out there and if you can find a way to maneuver around them, or tackle them, then you're halfway there.” Carter Yellowbird worked his heart out to get to where he is, with the drive he got from the rodeo. That perseverance got him through school, chemo and the open road to find new opportunities and the only time he’s looking back is to catch a glimpse of the wisdom of his culture.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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