Joe Bailey

North Star Adventures: Joe Bailey Shows Off Northern Beauty and Dene Work Ethic

“If you have a dream and you are a hard worker, you can enter into the entrepreneurial world and enjoy the satisfaction of being your own boss, for sure,” says Joe Bailey. He was born in Edmonton and grew up in Fort Resolution, Yellowknife and Fort Simpson. He is the owner and operator of North Star Adventures, a company he started more than fifteen years ago. 

"If you have a dream and you are a hard worker, you can enter into the entrepreneurial world and enjoy the satisfaction of being your own boss."

Working many outdoor jobs, he’s had a wide range of experiences from fighting fires, working on the highways to working in seismic in the Mackenzie mountains and north of the Arctic Circle. In addition to his outdoor work, he worked a range of office jobs for various government departments but found it wasn’t a fit. Bailey wanted to help his people working in the government but didn’t enjoy the bureaucratic culture. He left to work for the Yellowknife Dene First Nation as Manager of Municipal Operations given his civil engineering background. 

Reflecting on his career, Bailey says, “Working all over the Northwest Territories, working in different jobs and working with different people gave me a lot of amazing experience and knowledge.” He was inspired to start his own business.

Working with others, Bailey struggled with the slow pace of change and implementation. He always wanted to stay busy and keep moving forward. His need to stay in motion sometimes caused problems among his coworkers and left him feeling frustrated. Starting his own business let him set his own pace. 

With the strong Japanese market for Aurora viewings, he decided to give the tourism industry a shot. “The number one thing you need for entrepreneurialism is that work ethic and you’ve got to work hard. Like they say, if it was easy, everybody would do it,” he explains. 

Now as a business owner, Bailey gets paid to snowmobile, fish, to watch the northern lights and travel across the North. Often, people will tell him that he’s lucky. He says, “No. It's not luck. It's hard work. If you can do the hard work, you can achieve so many things. It really is. It's pretty easy. It's a good habit to get into. Work hard.” 

To help him get there, he pursued knowledge all his life. As a young child, he read the dictionary, studied geography, learned more math than he had to but one day in grade ten he got suspended. As he was leaving school, a recruiter from oil and gas offered him a job for the two weeks he was to be out of school but stayed on for years. Every two weeks he was working on the rigs he would study textbooks to keep learning. When he was working on the highways, someone suggested he become a civil engineer and helped him study by correspondence, learning at night and challenging exams until he was able to get into the University of Manitoba for civil engineering. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

He returned to work in the Northwest Territories as the only Indigenous engineer until he went to Arctic College in Fort Smith for Business Management. He completed a two-year diploma program in one year but he says, “I always tell people, if you want to get the real training and the real education, just start your business. That's how you're gonna learn.” His other advice is, “Get yourself a good team, especially for the finance parts of it.”  

"When I think back about my business education, it didn't teach people how to do business. I learned everything on the job."

His advice for Indigenous youth considering leaving their home community to go to school is to stay focussed on their goals and find strong supports. Bailey suggests concentrating on the benefits of completing a program, acknowledging many people leave for their family. He encourages them to instead consider how their family will benefit if they complete their program. 

To prepare, Bailey suggests doing research about what to expect, to prepare to make sacrifices but have fun along the way.  He recommends making friends with people with common interests or who are in the same program. Remembering why you are there and seeing Northwest Territories Student Financial Assistance as a supplement to summer earnings are his other tips. Bailey also advises buying used textbooks and visualizing success. 

When he went to school, Bailey was sponsored but he struggled with feeling alone away from his family. He had a hard time understanding some of his professors. Toughing it out and staying focused was hard. If he could give advice to his younger self it would be, “follow your dreams, and work hard.” He would also encourage himself to read every day and to travel. “You travel around the world one time, that's equal to a university degree because you'll learn so much,” he asserts. 

To maintain his mental health, Bailey exercises, eats well, and tries to process and move on from difficult experiences instead of wallowing. He joins Facebook groups to connect with people struggling with similar experiences and takes time each day to set down goals for the next day. At the end of the day, he unwinds with funny movies and always carries a booklet to write down his thoughts. Going for walks or driving with no music, he thinks a lot. Even when life is busy, he makes time for his mental health. 

When it comes to inspiration, he’s inspired by his grandparents who raised him for the first six years of his life and taught him important life lessons. He is also determined to show that Dene people have a strong work ethic. As a father, he’s wanted to work hard for his kids and provide for his family.  Bailey wants to be a role model for Dene youth to show them they can break out of difficult circumstances. 

In closing, Bailey encourages Indigenous youth to consider entrepreneurship and to talk  to business owners about business instead of going to business school. “If you find yourself to be an entrepreneurial person, and most Dene people are, if you're raised right, we're hard workers, you could be your own boss and do your own thing and if you do it right, you could make a lot of money,” he affirms. 

Joe Bailey learned that if you have a dream and you are a hard worker, you can enter into the entrepreneurial world and enjoy the satisfaction of being your own boss. As the owner and operator of North Star Adventures, he’s showing tourists the beauty of the North and the world what Dene people can do. Working hard and following his dreams, he’s making a career of leading the way.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    May 7, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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