B0013305 C. Pahtayken looks to the future
B0013305 C. Pahtayken looks to the future

Native Daughter: How Chantelle Pahtayken Is Helping Aboriginal Women Realize Their Dreams

Celebrating women making history

She was born on the big sky Canadian prairie to an Aboriginal/ Indigenous (Native Canadian) family and raised on a Cree reservation that straddles the provincial border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. She is a savvy businesswoman and immigrant success story who launched successful small businesses in both Canada and the United States while still in her twenties. She is the devoted single mother of a daughter, an eyelash beauty expert, employer, teacher, mentor and role model. Meet Chantelle Pahtayken.

Pahtayken owns and operates Second Look Studio, a salon in San Marcos, Calif., north of San Diego, where she and her team of four aestheticians perform eyelash extension and brow shaping services. She launched her first business, a salon that featured lash extension, skin care and other treatments, in Lloydminster, a small city on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, when only 23-years-old. When she was offered an opportunity to relocate to San Diego, she closed the Lloydminster salon and in 2015 opened Second Look Studio.

Her list of achievements would be considered impressive at any age, yet 29-year-old Pahtayken is much more than just another gifted and ambitious entrepreneur. She is also a tireless evangelist for female professional development and entrepreneurship, who shares the fruits of her expertise and good fortune by training Aboriginal/ Indigenous women, minority and other women in Canada and the U.S. in the art of eyebrow and eyelash styling and enhancement.

What drove this lovely young woman from the Onion Lake Reservation, population 5,350, to take a bold step forward and seize control of her destiny? Pahtayken was raised by her maternal grandparents and she credits them, especially her grandfather, for her motivation.

“I admired my grandfather for his hard work. After I had my daughter, he told me it was time to get my act together and make something of myself, for her,” she said.

So, she enrolled in the Lloydminster campus of Lakeland College, some 30 miles away from home, and registered for aesthetician courses in the Health and Beauty department. There, Pahtayken realized that she was learning skills in which she excelled and that she loved, skills that she could build a career around.

Following graduation, she was hired by a well-known Lloydminster beauty salon but shortly thereafter, decided to open a salon of her own. Pahtayken signals that she understands when it’s time to take a risk, as she explained, “I wanted to feel what it would be like to become my own boss. So, I pulled a loan from my tribe so I could go off on my own.” The business was modestly profitable.

When offered an opportunity to relocate to San Diego, Pahtayken closed the Lloydminster salon and launched Second Look Studio in 2015. Her way with brows and lashes caused her to quickly make a name for herself and the list of salon clients grew long. Within a couple of years, Pahtayken began to receive requests to train aspiring aestheticians in her lash extension and micro-blading brow-shaping techniques and found that she greatly enjoyed teaching. “My passion is teaching other women and seeing them become successful. It makes me feel good to help someone realize their potential in life,” Pahtayken said.

Perhaps the greatest compliment to her expertise occurred when the tribe invited her to the Onion Lake Cree Reservation where she grew up to give a week-long workshop, something she now does every year. “I was so happy to come back to my reservation and my family was excited that I would be there to teach people who know me.”

Pahtayken wisely paces herself so that she can regularly see her many loyal clients and still find time to train and mentor women in the U.S. and Canada, women who sometimes struggle to identify and enter a profession that resonates with them and is also accessible to them.

According to a 2017 report by Indigenous Corporate Training, aspiring Aboriginal/ Indigenous entrepreneurs, especially those who live on a reservation, often lack access to start-up and expansion capital for a complex set of factors that includes a lack of nearby banks. The four major Canadian banks collectively have fewer than 50 banking centers or branches on reservations. It has been shown that individuals (of any race or gender) who have limited access to mainstream financial institutions often have either poor credit scores or no credit scores.

Another barrier to entrepreneurialism is a result of the 1876 (Canadian) Indian Act, that prevents citizens of reservations from owning the land on which their houses sit. Furthermore, assets on the reservation are not subject to seizure under legal process. In short, residents of the reservation cannot borrow against their homes because if there is a default, the bank will have little to seize.

A third barrier to Aboriginal/ Indigenous aspiring entrepreneurs is a lack of reliable internet service. High speed internet is not a given in remote sections of Canada and that usually results in emailing problems for those who operate a business on or near a reservation. Websites won’t download, social media accounts are inoperable and e-commerce is impossible.

Sadly, there is a fourth obstacle that Aboriginal/ Indigenous Canadians might encounter and that is a lingering racial bias. In an incident that seems a throwback to one of the more regrettable mid-20th century U.S. public health practices that impacted perhaps thousands of citizens who were considered low-status by some government and public health officials, a class-action lawsuit recently filed by 60 Aboriginal/ Indigenous women against the Saskatchewan Province Health System alleges that the women were “harassed and pressured” into authorizing their own sterilization.

As reported by NPR in November 2018, the women were patients of publicly funded and administered Saskatchewan hospitals and claim that not only did they feel coerced into agreeing to sterilization, they were in labor when the conversations occurred. In some instances, there was no legal consent form offered to sign. When some of the women attempted to revoke consent after giving birth, they were shocked and devastated to learn that their fertility had already been taken from them.

Pahtayken said she didn’t feel that she faced any bias or other unusually difficult business challenges. She just kept learning, honing her craft and supporting other women in business, Aboriginal/ Indigenous or otherwise. “I have a circle of women business owner friends and we support each other, they inspire me,” she said.  She also receives support from several of her regular clients. “My clients are my mentors. Many of them are successful businesswomen. They are willing to help me, they give advice and encouragement when I need it.”

Where does she want to be in five years? “I’ll be building my business and maybe opening another Second Look Salon, or potentially a chain of salons,” Pahtayken said. “I really enjoy being a mentor for women, so I’d like to do more of that. It’s the greatest feeling knowing that I helped another single mom get back on her feet. I’m fond of those women because I was in their shoes at one point.”

See Pahtayken’s work at Second Look Studio.

About the author

Kim L. Clark

Kim L. Clark is the founder of Polished Professionals Boston, a business strategy and marketing consultancy. She is also an adviser to small business owners and develops workshops and classes that provide instruction in writing business plans. Kim has lectured at the Lesley University Seminars, the Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

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