Dennis Thomas says he works on succeeding because it's a way to help pull his community forward.
Dennis Thomas’s ancestral name is Whonoak. He attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute for acting. He was the 2010 Olympic coordinator for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation during the Vancouver Winter games to ensure his nation was properly represented. And Whonoak sees his success tied to his nation's health.
"The one thing that inspires me right now is creating jobs, careers for my nation members to prosper," said Whonoak, of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. "The ultimate goal for myself is for my community to be self-sustainable"
He believes that setting small goals for himself helped get him to where he is now. Whonoak overcame intergenerational trauma and the loss of his father to suicide. But he sees sports as an instrumental tool to keeping on the right path.
Throughout school he was involved in prestigious football.
“Sports played a very vital role in me completing high school because we went to the provincial championships five years in a row, and we won three rings, provincial championship rings,” said Whonoak.
He injured his knee tearing his MCL and ACL but Whonoak channelled that misfortune to learn another career path. He attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre and earned a diploma in theatre and a certificate in film and television from Capilano University. And acted in Storyeum for a couple of years. After six years of working as an actor the Olympics opportunity came. He credits that work with inspiring his interest in business.
"It was very important for me to actually have that, and for a long lasting career in business, I needed that for me to progress and evolve and grow within my nation, I needed that," said Whonoak.
By then he was involved in Takaya Tours and Whonoak went to business school, first obtaining a certificate then a diploma. He found it helpful to be involved in a business while taking courses because the workload wasn’t just theoretical. He could apply what he was learning directly. Now, he’s a senior business development manager for economic development and manages six portfolios. And is considering applying for his MBA.
One of his keys to success is being around the right people.
“You need to surround yourself with other inspirational friends that have a story, that have drive, that have passion because you feed off one another," said Whonoak.
Another key is to look the part, he felt out of place attending business meetings dressed as an actor and he encourages people to maintain a business wardrobe. He also attributes physical fitness with him staying physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy.
Whonoak sees a willingness from business partners to learn about his nation's culture and he has a willingness to teach.
“I'm walking with my ancestors, being culturally rich and strong, but yet, I'm walking in the modern world with education, business skills and building an economy for the nation,” said Whonoak.
And he hopes by doing so young Indigenous people do so too.
Thanks to Oscar Baker III for authoring this article.
2022 Updates: Since this interview, Dennis did enrol in and successfully complete an MBA program specialized in Indigenous Business Leadership.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.