It was a first for Maskwacis and the hope is it will generate ideas, boost participation and hopefully keep money from flowing to outlying communities.
The Maskwacis Business Forum, held recently at the Ermineskin Arena, was created by the Neyaskweyahk Group of Companies Inc. (NGCI) President/CEO Samuel Minde.
“The purpose of the forum was to highlight the importance of economic development and its ability to improve our communities,” he explained.
“Economic development is a powerful tool that would provide employment opportunities and revenues streams for anyone determined enough to start, own and operate a business.”
And Minde declared the forum a success, already looking at another one next year.
As for why it took so long for something such as this to be brought to the forefront, it had to do with attempting to bring together a few different visions from the four First Nations that make up Maskwacis — Louis Bull, Montana, Ermineskin and Samson.
“The Maskwacis Cree Leadership commissioned the Maskwacis Education Steering Committee, which has done a fantastic job in amalgamating the four Nations’ education,” he said.
“I believe there is an opportunity to coordinate the four Nations economic development and community planning, where we could support each other similarity. Before the four Nations, we were one reserve called Bobtail.
Minde added that $60 million dollars annually leaves the four First Nations and goes into someone else’s coffers — the vast majority of it being spent in Wetaskiwin and Ponoka.
“That (money) is a lot of jobs. If I were a Wetaskiwin or Ponoka business, I would want to keep the business of the First Nations, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
“Though, the situation can remain the same for the next 20 to 30 years. Or, the First Nations can begin to reverse this trend. I don’t just see the opportunity of the four Nations working together, but also the four Nations work together with Ponoka and Wetaskiwin to create a region where business development works for us all.”
The keynote speaker of the forum was Chris Derickson, a band councillor from Westbank First Nation near Kelowna, B.C., who’s a friend of Minde and his mother just happens to come from Samson.
Minde explained the pair met while each were completing their Executive Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at Simon Fraser University.
“I have learned so much from him and Westbank’s First Nations story,” he said.
“The reason I invited him to share his community experience was to provide us with a vision of how we can move forward with our community planning and business development. Westbank is amazing at supporting entrepreneurship on their Nation lands.”
Lastly, Minde stated he is hopeful about the work that has been done and the issues yet to be dealt with will come together for the benefit of everyone at Maskwacis and the surrounding communities.
“We share the same history and will share the same destiny. I’m hopeful for the future, planning for our economy and future leaders and entrepreneurs while creating jobs today,” he said.