The Sechelt Nation’s focus on economic development drew some lofty praise last week from one of Canada’s most celebrated pro-business Aboriginal leaders.
Speaking at the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) annual general assembly on Nov. 22, Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) Chief Clarence Louie listed SIB among the handful of First Nations in the province that have their economic priorities in line.
“I’ll tell you this: Sechelt and Osoyoos, Kamloops Indian Band, and I can name a few others — our kids have the right to brag about the rez, because we’re making money,” Louie said.
First elected in 1984 at age 24, Louie has been recognized for transforming his small South Okanagan Band into a successful corporation and for his blunt pro-business message. He has given talks across Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, he said, “because all over Indian country people want to know how to make money.”
Making money, Louie said during his hour-long keynote address, means embracing the traditional Native work ethic that was crushed under the reservation system.
“Everybody needs the dignity of a job,” he said. “I don’t like to see any of my people not working. My first priority back home is creating jobs, because I love to see Native people working. Anyone who collects a pay cheque in Sechelt holds a leadership position in Sechelt.”
Bands, he said, can only offer first-rate social, recreational and cultural services by topping up grant money with a healthy stream of self-generated income.
“Powwows don’t make money. Powwows cost money. Everything costs money,” Louie said.
Through a development corporation set up in 1998, OIB owns and manages nine businesses including a construction company and a championship golf course. Nk’Mip Cellars, a joint venture with Vincor International and the first Aboriginal winery in North America, was named top winery in B.C. this month at the 2012 Access Canadian Wine Awards. The Nk’Mip Desert and Cultural Centre represents a major investment by OIB in eco-tourism.
“Thirty-five different First Nations work on my reserve. They come from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, all over B.C., Yukon and Northwest Territories. We have more Band-owned businesses on a per-capita basis than any other First Nation in the country,” said Louie, whose efforts have earned him the Order of British Columbia, the Aboriginal Achievement Award and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Louie said he started hearing about the shíshálh Nation in the mid-80s when it became the first Band in Canada to achieve self-government.
“This is one of the First Nations I wanted to come to,” he said. “I wanted to see if [former chief] Stan [Dixon] was home.”
Driving around the community that day, with Coun. Ashley Joe at the wheel, Louie said he liked what he saw.
“You guys have some of the nicest houses I’ve seen on Indian reserves,” he told the assembly.
The longhouse, he said, “is one of the best longhouses I’ve seen in my travels.”
And, since one of Louie’s precepts is that “leaders are readers,” the shíshálh dictionary was also a big hit with the visiting chief.
“I’ve never seen one Band that had a dictionary in their language. That is so cool, to be able to see that. And I’ll be reporting that back home, along with some of the things I saw today,” he said.
On the business side, Louie said he was impressed by the number of SIB leases.
“You’ve got so many,” he said. “We all need to have leases in our portfolio. But you also need Band businesses in your portfolio.”
In his opening remarks, SIB Chief Garry Feschuk said one the main goals of the shíshálh Nation strategic plan is to increase the number of Band-owned businesses.
“And we’re moving in that direction,” Feschuk said. “Moving forward, one of the areas we are really focusing on is economic development, within our community and within our territory.”
The 2012 report for the general assembly lists major accomplishments for the year in all departments.
On the economic front, SIB established a new commercial fishing enterprise, purchasing and outfitting three aluminum prawn vessels; held a successful business networking conference in June; and its Tsain-Ko Development Corporation added Ricky’s All Day Grill to its holdings. The general partner responsible for the Village Shopping Centre, Tsain-Ko also manages forestry tenures and operates a gas bar under an agency agreement with Loblaw.
Feschuk thanked SIB directors, staff and CAO Barbara Joe for translating direction into action, as well as elders and community members for giving council their input.
Turning to introduce Chief Louie, Feschuk said, “I really acknowledge you” for networking with other First Nations.
“Each Nation has a strength, and how do we come together and share that strength with one another, so we can all build our Nations strong together? That has to happen,” Feschuk said.
The presentations opened and closed with songs by Xwamtsut and were followed by a meal.