The importance of economic partnerships between First Nations and non-First Nations communities and industry was at the forefront of discussion at a special gathering held on Stz’uminus First Nations territory on March 23.
The event featured Chief Kim Baird of the Tsawassen First Nation and Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, who discussed projects their respective communities have undertaken through partnership with various sectors and businesses.
“It makes business sense to have a relationship with First Nations,” Louie said. “There are more First Nations in this province than anywhere in the country. That says to me that B.C. should be at the forefront of the First Nation/non-First Nation business relationship.”
According to Louie, the Osoyoos Indian Band has helped generate revenue through partnerships with Jackson-Triggs Winery and helped create jobs by working with the government to build a provincial prison on reserve land. He said the band contributes $40 million to the local economy and is one of the biggest employers in the region.
“When we were poor, nobody paid attention to us,” Louie said. “It makes no sense to have a poor neighbor.”
Louie stressed that economic development needs to be on the top of the list and that the Stz’uminus First Nation must be prepared to possibly incur debt in the process.
“It’s better to have debt and to have jobs then to have no debt and have a lot of welfare,” he said.
Ray Gauthier, CEO of the Coast Salish Development Corporation (the economic development agency of the Stz’uminus First Nation), said the gathering was an opportunity to open the doors for discussion on all sides of the spectrum.
“We see ourselves as a municipality in the same way that the Town of Ladysmith is a municipality … all of the resources that are out there, we all need access to; we just have to find a way where there’s a fair and equitable distribution of those assets,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’ll accomplish a lot more if we’re working together.”
The nationcurrently has a few revenue-generating projects on the go, such as the Husky Gas Station, land leasing and its own forestry company. Another recent example is the Coast Salish Development Corp.’s $5.7-million stake in the Fortis BC liquefied gas storage facility on Mt. Hayes, just outside of Ladysmith.
Stz’uminus Chief John Elliot said their doors continue to be open for business, and the CSDC is working towards developing a housing project and golf course on the “four corners” lot, located at the Trans-Canada Highway and Oyster Sto-Lo Road.
“It’s going to bring opportunities, it’s going to bring jobs, it’s going to bring revenue into the nation, and so we don’t have to be making phone calls to ask for money, we’ll be creating our own,” Elliot said. “So many of our students are in university, and we need to build a place for them to come home and work and have a place to grow their families.”
Mayor Rob Hutchins, who was in attendance at the gathering, said he feels the partnerships being worked towards today come nearly a century too late.
“We basically worked in isolation and walked down the road into the future separately,” he said. “In the last six or seven years, we’ve done far more work, but it wasn’t until 2007, 103 years after the Town’s incorporation, that we actually set up a formal arrangement for working together. We should have undertaken this decades ago, so we’re playing catch up.”
The Town of Ladysmith and Stz’uminus First Nation signed a Community Accord in 2007 and are now working towards a draft Memorandum of Understanding, which will more specifically outline how the two communities can best work together.
“By working together in a meaningful way in terms of sharing resources, sharing expertise, working and creating actual partnerships for economic development, it will benefit both,” Hutchins said.