Kateri Banning Skaarup – The Story of Me

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Powering to 30 lifts, this budding strong lady under the careful supervision of Kateri Skaarup
Powering to 30 lifts, this budding strong lady under the careful supervision of Kateri Skaarup
Powering to 30 lifts, this budding strong lady under the careful supervision of Kateri Skaarup
Powering to 30 lifts, this budding strong lady under the careful supervision of Kateri Skaarup

FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION – My name is Kateri (Banning) Skaarup,

I am a Fort William First Nations Member and Candidate for Council in the upcoming Chief and Council election happening April 11, 2015.

And this is the story of me…

I was born December 1981 to Cathy who was a fresh 16 at the time. I was fortunate to have extremely supportive Grandparents, Frank and Evelyn Banning, that allowed her to stay at home and finish school while they helped raise me. My biological father was given a free pass to leave and being only a teen himself he took it. It never bothered me though, I had Grandpa, he was enough. Everyone that walked through my Grandparents door called him “Daddy” including my Grandmother, so I naturally called Grandpa “Daddy”.

When I was around 6ish, my younger cousin asked what it was like to not have a Dad and that’s when it first occurred to me “holy poop, I didn’t”- crazy but true- that’s how well my Grandparents and Mother treated me- I never felt that anything was ever missing. I went to church with Grandma and Grandpa at least once a week and had to say my prayers daily. I often fell asleep listening to my Grandparents in their room next door, go back and forth reciting the rosary. We had pop and chips every Friday night and I would wake every Saturday morning to Grandpa cooking us all breakfast- I was the luckiest little girl ever when I look back on it.

My Mother had met my stepfather during my early childhood and at age 7 they purchased the house 3 doors down from Grandma and Grandpas- we finally had our own little family. I was still always at Grandmas though- thank God and Mom it was close!

My whole childhood I loved drawing and building houses. Any box that came through our door was turned into a dollhouse or Barbie house (yes there’s a difference). Kleenex boxes, shoeboxes, even if it wasn’t a box I’d tape it together to make one! Once I was teen I would make little cut out people for my miniature paper houses. My mom still laughs when she talks about my cities that used to overtake my bedroom- you couldn’t even open my door to get in sometimes. But that was my world, I could create whatever I wanted and I loved it.
I always stayed close with my Grandparents; they were always my rock, I would even tattle on my Step-dad to Grandpa, so much so that my step-dad used to throw in at the end of my scolding’s (which I totally deserved) “and don’t you go tell your Grandpa!”

My best friend through life was and still is my Cousin Dawn. I was an only child living at Grandmas and she was the closest in location and age (by 10 months) we were born to be partners in crime. We have done everything together from diapers, elementary school, high school, college, we even planned our weddings and got married together (2 months apart of course). She has always been the Angel on my shoulder and my “sister”- without her I may not have made it out of my teens or early twenties alive. And this is where the real story begins…

I was an easily influenced teen, maybe I was angry, maybe I was dumb, probably all of the above. I hung with the wrong crowd, got into trouble, and got caught in a few social traps. I fell into an abusive relationship at 17 and was trapped for years. At 20 I had my daughter, my savior. I was responsible for another human being- holy cow- what a wake up call. My daughters biological father had serious issues and he usually took out his anger at home with us. When my daughter was a baby, the police were called to my home for a disturbance. I was so controlled that I actually begged the police not to charge him- Thank God they didn’t listen to me and within 3 months of being held without bail he was sentenced to 6 months for domestic assault with no credit for time served- some of you will understand the severity of the situation the police walked into by that alone, but for the rest, I’m sorry, I can’t type those details. My daughter and I were free- and I was scared as hell. Thank God for my Grandparents, my Family and good friends Sarah & Dawn.

Thank God for Dawn.

I needed to feed my daughter, I needed to pay my bills and I needed to give my daughter a good life. It wasn’t about me at all anymore- it was all about her.
I enrolled in Confederation College full time and took on 3 part-time jobs. I worked for my step-dad at his welding shop, I bartended and waitressed and I sold cosmetics. Dawn helped to care for my Daughter, she was there, and she was my second half. She would pick her up from daycare, feed her, bathe her and put her to bed some nights. I was blessed to have such a good friend in such a crazy time- Dawn has always been apart of my foundation and I can only aspire to be as good of a friend as her. I’m doing my best Baby Dawn.

While in trade school I met Dan, my future husband. He was doing his Carpentry apprenticeship and we graduated in 2005, days later started dating and within 2 months we started Skaarup Construction. I had finally found someone to build my houses out of wood!!!

We started by doing random reno jobs that would come our way. A door, a window, a room, a main floor, we just kept growing. By 2007 we built and moved into our first house. We took on larger and larger projects including a 10,000ft2 dance studio to office space conversion and picked up major corporations as clients. In 2009 I designed and we built a duplex for a client and got burned- along with every single other contractor on that site- and bad. It almost took our company out-almost- and then- I lost my Grandfather, my “Daddy”. The one Man that had been there my whole life, the one that I truly felt could protect me from everything was gone. The hardest moments of my life right there- dealing with the loss of my Grandfather and the potential destruction of our company all at the same time had me crying in a corner for days.

I still had Grandma though- and she needed our help- my Daughter was due for her first communion and had to go to Sunday school. Grandma needed a new companion; a ride to church and it was perfect. I started taking Grandma to Church every Sunday and for once in my life I actually enjoyed it. We still needed to pay our bills though so I got a second job at Pauluccis Wayland Bar & Grill. I waitressed, bartended and I helped to pay my families bills while we worked at rebuilding our company and capital. I would wake at 6am and be done work at 3am some days. I relied on Red Bull and espresso- literally. In 2010 I started the process to my design designation with the MMAH and obtained my BCIN for the Ontario Building Code. By 2011 we were ready- we had realized that if we were capable of building, getting burned and still carrying on- why can’t we do that for ourselves? Why can’t we build houses without a client? Ah- but we can- and so we did.

Since that life changing decision our company has sky rocketed. We face resistance still of course but we are able to push forward and continue to fly. In 2014, in collaboration with Keynote events, we brought HGTV star Paul Lafrance here- the Deck God- as a fundraiser for the Regional Health Sciences Centre. Boy how things have changed.

In my spare time I do a lot- I enjoy working out- I have always loved long distance running and weight lifting. I have competed in powerlifting competitions since 2006 with multiple 1st and 2nd place trophies and medals. In 2011 with the help of the Pauluccis, we started Thunder Bays Strongest Man in support of Camp Quality- a donation based family friendly event that features live music outdoors, children activities and Thunder Bays Strongest Men and Women vying for the title of #1- I had no MC for the so I manned the mic and have since. Everything was a hit and before it was done we had all decided this was going to be an annual event.

I was then requested to MC the Muscles portion of Motors & Muscles in support of Our Kids Count and I continue to do so to date. In 2013 & 2014 Thunder Bay played host to Ontarios Strongest Man (televised nationally) and I was asked to be an MC again- I was really playing with the big boys now- no doubt about it.

In 2014 I was elected to the Shift Thunder Bay Young Professionals Network Board of Directors and was given the Title of Social Planning Director. Through this role I’ve been fortunate to meet and learn from some of the best and brightest minds Our City has to offer, from former Mayors and current Councillors to students, managers, business owners and multi-millionaires. All success stories, all succeeding here- now how flipping inspiring is that? In the past year, being a part of Shift while running our Company has taught me so much and opened so many new doors to the future- it’s also showed me that ABSOLUTELY ANYONE CAN MAKE IT- you just have to Try AND NEVER GIVE UP.

I started this story by telling you that I’m currently a Candidate in the upcoming election on Fort William First Nations. Here’s where I return to that statement.
I have been through many adversities, much turmoil, immense joy and terrible sadness. I’ve persevered with strength and a smile- I have found my calling and success in that.

Currently on the horizon, FWFN is looking at major housing developments, elders residence and commercial complex build. We also have social issues and triumphs.
My experience in running a construction company and in home building will be an incredible asset sitting at the table during these projects and discussions as I fully understand the construction world, the budgeting, material costs and scope of work entailed for each project.
My experience as a child of a teen mother and becoming a young, single mother myself gives me compassion and understanding to our women who may be struggling right now.
Sometimes just by lending a bit of your strength and an ear is all a woman needs to get back in control and succeed.
My relationship and the blessing of being raised by my Grandparents gave me the utmost respect and understanding for Our Elders. It was a privilege to have had that much wisdom and all those stories within reach and I will always value an Elders thoughts and teachings.
My battles have strengthened my spirit as I’ve conquered some pretty scary demons.
I know the issues that effect our community, I’ve lived them.
I can help by being a light to others and showing that there is always hope.

Kateri Banning-Skaarup


NetNewsLedger offers space for political candidates and elected leaders to submit a column. This opportunity is extended to all current candidates in the Fort William First Nation election. To contact NetNewsLedger please email newsroom@netnewsledger.com

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