Fraser Forum

Chief Bear and Whitecap Dakota: reconciliation through economic prosperity

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It was announced yesterday that Darcy Bear, Chief of Whitecap Dakota (a small community outside of Saskatoon), has won the 2016 Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. This is a great honour for a Chief that has been able to bring reconciliation through economic prosperity to his community.

As I highlighted in a June op-ed, Chief Bear (pictured above) was first elected as Chief of Whitecap Dakota more than 20 years ago at the age of 26. When he took office the unemployment rate on reserve was 70 per cent, the on-reserve education system was broken, and the small community was running a deficit of $350,000. With the support of his council and community, Chief Bear has brought the unemployment rate down to five per cent and has created business opportunities that have generated more than $6.7 million annually in own-source revenue.

Chief Bear has achieved this success by implementing economic development policies and building partnerships with businesses and governments.

To stimulate economic growth, Chief Bear knew he had to get his community out from under the archaic Indian Act land provisions. “The Indian Act was not created to enable First Nation communities to be a part of the economy, it was created to segregate us from society and keep us out of sight and out of mind,” he said.

In fact, our research has shown that archaic land provisions and lack of property rights on reserve have made First Nations members wards of the state and unable to enjoy the same economic opportunities as all other Canadians. In 2013, Whitecap Dakota joined the First Nations Land Management regime, which eliminated land provisions under the Indian Act and allowed the community to create their own land laws and move at the speed of business without intervention from the federal government.

Today, Whitecap Dakota has approximately $100 million of capital investment in their community from the private sector. “All these revenues enable us to move forward and build a sustainable community,” he said.

This prosperity has also benefited the city of Saskatoon. Whitecap Dakota now employs more than 500 people from Saskatoon and recently contributed $2.7 million towards the construction of a new Saskatoon school where only 10 per cent of the student body will be from Whitecap Dakota.

It is anticipated that today’s throne speech will highlight a new relationship with Canada’s aboriginal people and a focus on reconciliation with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples. As Whitecap Dakota has shown, economic development and prosperity is a potential path towards reconciliation. Some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s own recommendations focus on increasing economic development opportunities for aboriginal people and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business agrees that “the business lens is a way we can help reconcile.”

Whitecap Dakota’s partnerships with the City of Saskatoon and businesses in Canada serve as great examples of how we can achieve reconciliation through economic prosperity.


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