First Nations partnerships take center stage at Forward Summit 2022

The Forward Summit 2022, in association with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, featured a panel focused on the value of meaningful partnerships between industry and Indigenous communities.

The panel, “The Power of Partnership Beyond the Project,” focused on the long-term partnerships involved in two projects: a collaboration between Whitecap Dakota First Nation and SaskTel to provide broadband access through fiber optic to the community of Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan; and the Taza Development Project, a massive First Nations redevelopment project on 1,200 acres of Tsuut’ina Nation land in the Calgary area involving a partnership between the Nation and real estate developer Canderel to construct a major commercial development.

The session was moderated by Tim Coldwell of Chandos Construction. Speakers were Councilor Frank Royal of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation; Colleen Cameron, Aboriginal Business Development, Sasktel; Dan Van Leeuwen, general manager of development for Taza Development Corp; and Bryce Starlight, Vice President of Development, Taza Development Corp.

The first questions Coldwell asked were, “How did you develop a vision of what you want him to achieve for the project, and what checks and balances or governance do you have in place?

The first speaker to respond was Starlight, the representative of the Tsuut’ina Nation leading the long-term economic development mandate of the Taza Development Project.

“When we first went into the market looking for land development partners, we mainly focused on real partnership, real partnership,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do was engage with a developer who was going to sit us in the back while he drove and gave all the directions. We really wanted to be actively involved in the design, development, creating that vision, and then also long-term ownership.”

Starlight added that one of the main obstacles for many First Nations looking to undertake larger infrastructure projects is the lack of access to free capital.

“So the partner we brought to the table had to realize that and had to be willing to take that risk, while we took the land as our own capital investment,” he said. “Being able to have this type of partnership where we both took on the risk equally and really took on the rewards was extremely important.”

The Tsuut’ina Nation also wanted to ensure that the development was not a typical development one would see in Calgary, Edmonton or downtown Toronto.

“We wanted it to really speak that you are on Nation land. This is a First Nations development and it is not just about painting beads and feathers on the side of the building, but it actually incorporates the culture, tradition and ability for the Nation to to have that property and to have its members working there, both short-term and long-term. »

Van Leeuwen says too often developers planning to develop on First Nations lands come up with the wrong approach.

Dan Van Leeuwen is the Chief Development Officer of Taza Development Corp.

“I think a lot of other developers are planning to develop on First Nations when we come in, show you what to do, tell you what to do, and if we make any money, we’ll share it. I think it’s a bad start and a bad start,” he said.

Van Leeuwen says Canderel took the approach from the start that things had to be put together evenly.

“And then from that point on, you start thinking, ‘Well, what does equal vision and equal opportunity mean?’ You know, the Nation has tremendous value in their land. As a company, we have tremendous access to capital. How can you bring these things together to create an equal advantage? ” he said.

Van Leeuwen said the benefits of the project must accrue to the Nation for long-term reward.

“The idea is not to withdraw the money from this project so that it leaves the community. The idea is to make sure that this partnership is truly inclusive,” he said. “We have a saying together in Tsuut’ina, and it’s more than just together in terms of Tsuut’ina and Canderel. We want to see everyone locally, regionally and beyond, not only coming to benefit from being part of the Nation, but also benefiting the Nation in the long term. Our partnership, its first duration is 40 years. I think if there were developers in the room, they would call us crazy. But we said, let’s prepare for this to have a long-term view. This is what makes the partnership work well. It is governed by a council made up of equal parts Tsuut’ina and Canderel. We have a dispute resolution mechanism that we could put in place, but we have never had a dispute because we put it in place on this basis.

The Royal Councilor said the collaboration between Whitecap Dakota First Nation and SaskTel is vital to the Nation’s future development for the casino and resort, residential development, as well as the development of new twin arenas. He added that the presence of strong internet infrastructure for business and community was needed throughout the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Councilor Frank Royal of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

“Before the pandemic, we had monthly lunches for Elders. During COVID, we turned to Zoom with seniors and bought all the iPads from them,” he said, adding that internet infrastructure was also vital for online learning.

Cameron, of SaskTel, said that the management of the company backing the project recognized early on that it needed a core group of indigenous people and who understood Indigenous and First Nations communities.

“As a result, we’ve been able to create and grow incredible partnerships and have this long-term vision and strategy with our customers and communities,” she said.

The relationship between Sasktel and Whitecap Dakota First Nation has grown over the past 20 years. About 15 years ago, the Nation built a cell tower with Sasktel as part of its long-term vision for economic growth. Internet infrastructure was another major milestone for the nation’s long-term growth, which also includes a golf course, hotel, and underdevelopment.

Colleen Cameron, Aboriginal Business Development, Sasktel.

“But to have all this, they needed infrastructure. And that partnership went hand in hand in terms of dialogue, we at SaskTel making sure we follow their vision, and we have those checks and marks in balance that we could identify and work with them and bring that build to the community.” , Cameron said. , adding that all members of the community now have access to fiber optic broadband service technology, which creates opportunities for elders and youth.

Recent developments at the Nation have created around 800 jobs between the casino, golf course and hotel, and more potential jobs could be created through the development of the twin arenas, a spa and future residential projects .

“In order to secure investment, Sasktel and the government recognized that there were investment opportunities for this project. More jobs means a better quality of life for our members,” said Councilor Royal.

Coldwell also asked the panel about risk management.

Tim Coldwell of Chandos Construction

“Any partnership involves risks inherent in the partnership. How did you get them on the table and start having adult conversations about them? he asked the speakers.

Starlight said ensuring the Tsuut’ina Nation was directly involved in the project was key to mitigating risk while removing politics from overall business decisions.

“That’s not to say that we don’t work regularly with Chief and Council, but in terms of actual investment decisions, how we actually grow and how fast we grow, we really had to make sure it moved at the speed of business,” he said. “What I’ve seen kill more trades than not is time. You delay too long, or the market changes, and all of a sudden the project falls through because you don’t just weren’t fast enough So for us to be able to have that transparency, where representatives of chief and council sit on the council, but at the same time aren’t bound by the whole chief and council making this decision is extremely beneficial.

Starlight added that updates are regularly offered to the community to ensure the project stays aligned with the community’s vision.

“What that helps us do is survive leadership changes. Chief and council changes, administration changes even, where it can often be very individual. Where someone’s mandate or priority can block a whole development project, if you’re not careful,” he said.

The Nation has also ensured that it has equal representation at the top level.

“That’s where my role comes in, where we’re not just talking about a developer who acts as a third party to a board of directors represented by the Nation. But you actually have someone who has boots on the pitch, getting their hands dirty, and actually participating in active development on a day-to-day basis,” Starlight said.

Although the fiber optic broadband collaboration between Whitecap Dakota First Nation and SaskTel had some “hiccups”, the Nation had someone in place who communicated with the community and the Council about any concerns. and questions that arose.

“People wanted to know when they were going to be hooked up, so we asked this person to communicate, and since last year, everyone’s hooked up. And, of course, dealing with issues and expectations, and that’s went pretty well, so it was a good project for us,” the Royal Councilor said.

For more information on this session and others from the Forward Summit 2022, visit: