Aboriginal Business Conference 2009 – Honourable Bob McLeod
September 23, 2009
Welcome everyone, to the 2009 Aboriginal Business Conference and Trade Show. It is great to see all of you – representatives of Aboriginal governments, regional corporations and businesses in the Northwest Territories, including both old and new faces. Also, greetings to those of you visiting the NWT, who are here to share your knowledge, experience and expertise.Congratulations to the Denendeh Development Corporation for organizing this great event – we all appreciate the hard work you put into it. I have had the pleasure of attending this very important conference several times. As the Minister of Industry Tourism and Investment, I am happy to represent the GNWT and offer our continued support for Aboriginal business in the North.
I have talked with some of you before about why I think the Northwest Territories is the best place to live in Canada: it’s our potential. We are one of the most exciting economic jurisdictions in the country.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ways in which the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, is working to build, support and strengthen the capacity and growth of our Territory’s business community.
Co-operation between government, Aboriginal groups and organizations and the private sector has had a profound influence on the economy in the NWT over the last two decades. We, in the NWT, do not settle for jobs and contracts that follow the boom and bust of construction and exploration cycles. This is our history – we have consistently sought out business opportunities for northerners. Denendeh Development Corporation was first created as a partnership between Esso Resources and the NWT Métis Development Corporation, to own and operate two service rigs in the Norman Wells area. Over time, DDC bought out both partners and became the 100% owner of Shehtah Drilling. Shehtah has now expanded to include two deep drill rigs and Arctic work camps, as well. Our history has taught us that resource exploration and development can stimulate the economy and present northern businesses with unprecedented opportunities.
The GNWT made many strategic investments and supported Aboriginal people, governments and leaders in becoming economically self-sufficient, significant players in the NWT economy. Our government’s approach to maximizing the benefits of exploration and development through socio economic agreements has been a significant contributor to the evolution and growth of our Territory’s business sector.
For instance, in 2008 total procurement by the three diamond mines was more than $1 billion. Approximately one-third of that was from northern Aboriginal businesses.
The collaborative approach that we have initiated with our Territory’s diamond mines is a good example of a framework that has been put in place to develop the skills and capacities of Northwest Territories residents to meet the needs of industry.
Meanwhile, we are working to balance our government’s efforts to promote sustainable opportunities in the energy, mines, and petroleum resources sectors with initiatives to diversify the economy through tourism, agriculture, the traditional economy, and manufacturing. The economic downturn and its challenges, as well as the need for the economic stimulus, are showing that Aboriginal leaders in Northwest Territories have the confidence to address these key issues.
As a Government, we recognize that one of the roles that we must fill in an economic downturn is to take steps to encourage and assist the business sector to maintain employment levels and expenditures so as to sustain economic activity levels. We have introduced new initiatives to assist Northwest Territories small businesses while encouraging investments and expenditures in our economy.
In the fall of 2008, we introduced the Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development policy – or SEED. We increased our investment in SEED to a total of $3.2 million this year – just one part of the $23.5 million that ITI invests annually in Northerners and Northern businesses and organizations.
The Northwest Territories Business Development and Investment Corporation, our Community Futures Organizations, and the BizPal licensing system, are also resources that we have funded to support NWT businesses.
The GNWT also facilitates access to capital through our support of regional community economic development officers, business development officers, community transfer economic development officers and community futures staff. These individuals promote and provide access to funding and development resources like the NWT Business Development and Investment Corporation, Community Futures Organizations, the Canada/NWT Business Service Centre and the Federal Aboriginal Business Canada Program.
In the long run, promoting a diversified economy will provide for greater future stability in all kinds of economic cycles. To this end we are working to develop initiatives and approaches that add value to our business products and services and broaden the knowledge, skills, and creativity of our residents.
The NWT has limited financial and labour capacity. We do not have sufficient capital to finance all of the major projects or take advantage of all of the opportunities that exist in our Territory. As a result, many partnerships and joint ventures have emerged between northern and southern companies to promote and service development. The majority of southern participation in the northern economy is now through joint ventures.
The business reach of entities such as Denendeh Investments or the Tlicho Investment Corporation is impressive. It spreads out to oil and gas drilling services, communications, utilities, real estate development, hotel and travel industry, trucking and mining services, heavy construction, and environmental services. These successes are something to truly celebrate. For a territory of less than 50,000 people, we have some amazing success stories. It’s all part of living in a place where everyone is part of a supportive network. Perhaps this helps our business community to collaborate more readily with southern partners and among ourselves. I see real economic strength emerging through these success stories.
In 2007, a new partnership was formed under the name of Mackenzie Environmental Solutions LP. Its focus is to use innovative and new technologies for contaminants primarily in the Mackenzie Basin area. This allows a marriage of the interests and concerns of local beneficiaries with the needs of new economic opportunities.
Mackenzie Aboriginal Corporation, another example, combines knowledge of northern construction with the experience and equipment of northern contractors and established construction companies. This is an Aboriginal-owned company positioned to keep much of the benefit of the pipeline construction in the local communities.
KeTe Whii Limited was created by the Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene, and Lutsel K’e Dene. Procon saw the benefits of working with such a unified group, and together they formed the KeTe Whii / Procon Joint Venture. They are currently working on projects at the Ekati diamond mine and the Snap Lake diamond mine.
The Aboriginal Pipeline Group (APG) is perhaps the greatest example of Aboriginal businesses increasing their presence and participation in the development of NWT resources. This unique partnership has the potential for Aboriginal groups in the Mackenzie Valley owning a one-third interest in the $16 billion Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline. In time, I believe the APG will be a successful model for maximizing benefits from our strong economy and promoting self-reliance among our communities and our people.
Increasingly, the joint ventures we are seeing are wholly northern-owned.
I&D Management Services is owned by the Deton’Cho Corporation, Tlicho, Kitikmeot Corporation, and Lutsel K’e Dene Council. It provides human resource solutions to corporate customers such as Diavik, Procon and Domco.
Tli Cho Logistics, now wholly-owned by the Behcho Ko Development Corporation, provides facilities management, logistic and technical services to various mining operations in the NWT. The Territorial Government is proud to support the joint ventures and the NWT business community through its programs and through the efforts of its staff, who are present in all NWT communities.
A clearly stated principle of the GNWT is to support Aboriginal equity positions in energy projects on traditional Aboriginal lands.
Creation of the Deze Energy Corporation, a joint venture between the Akaitcho Energy Corporation, the Métis Energy Corporation, and the NWT Energy Corporation, is another success story of cooperation between Aboriginal groups and government. With each group owning one-third, the opportunity to benefit from hydro development represents a great opportunity for all parties. When DDC entered the Mackenzie Aboriginal Corporation partnership, Darrell Beaulieu, President of DII and the DDC Group of Companies, was quoted as saying, “It makes so much sense for our First Nation communities to work together to maximize business opportunities on large scale projects such as the proposed pipeline.”
I think this is true, that northern companies are stronger for working together. I welcomed the launch of the Northern Aboriginal Businesses Association (NABA) in the NWT as a part of the great inventory of resources, strengths and opportunities with which we are working to build our future.
We are not just focused on big business. Increased participation in the traditional economy will also work to advance the diversification and sustainability of local economies. It is one of the priorities that we have identified to meet our goal to provide all communities and regions with opportunities and choices.
Harvesting of fur is an essential part of the NWT’s Aboriginal culture and our traditional economy. There are more than 800 active trappers in the NWT this year. This is the largest number of trappers we have had participate in our Genuine Mackenzie Valley Fur Program since we started it in 2002, and trappers from the Northwest Territories remained top performers at this spring’s fur auction.
The Government of the Northwest Territories is, in fact, one of very few governments in the world that actively supports the harvesting and marketing of wild fur as a fundamental component of a modern and thriving economy. Fur from the Northwest Territories is now recognized as some of the finest wild fur in North America. Having options like this allows us to be strong in two worlds, to weather economic storms.
The arts and find crafts sector goes hand-in-hand with the traditional economy. We are investing in the production of traditional arts and fine crafts; branding and promoting the products and creations of our artisan community; and seeking out unique and innovative ways to market the NWT as a tourism destination of choice.
I know that the Arrowmakers Fine Traditional Art Gallery is 100% owned by DDC, and that gallery features the work of Dene artists from across the NWT, as well as work by Metis, Inuvialuit and non-Aboriginal NWT artists.
Some of those same artists will be showcased at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Our Government has partnered with Nunavut and Yukon to showcase northern talent and to attract visitors to the North. Three days in February 2010 will be known as Canada’s North Weekend at the Olympics, and will be our opportunity to showcase the diversity and talent of our cultural performers and traditional games athletes. In addition to Northern Weekend, the GNWT has taken the lead role in the creation of an official pavilion for the three territories, Northern House.
Northern House will be the place to be, to watch amazing live performances by Northern performers, see Northern artists working on their crafts, and be inspired to travel north and experience everything we have to offer.
Enticing people to come North and see what a great territory we live in is essential to the economic health of our tourism industry. A great majority of our small businesses – built and developed around our tourism industry – are further supported by our Government’s investment in industry-specific initiatives such as the Tourism Diversification and Marketing Program and the Tourism 2010 Strategy.
More than any other investment, tourism holds the potential to advance and develop a myriad of jobs, business opportunities and benefits in just about every corner of our Territory.
Collectively, our goal is the same – a strong and independent Territory made up of 33 economically vibrant and self-sustaining communities – full of healthy, educated families that have the opportunities and resources to make meaningful choices about their lives and future.
The potential of our Northern economy is huge.
The spectrum of the resources available in the NWT is vast and remains largely untapped.
As the North’s economy expands, there will continue to be wide-ranging opportunities for businesses of all sizes to work together – developing joint ventures and other business models. The door is wide open for Aboriginal governments, regional corporations and businesses.
Dialogue and cooperation in addressing opportunities has led to transformation of the NWT economy. Aboriginal groups have become “Big” players in the development of the NWT economy. By continuing relationships and dialogue, we will see business successes duplicated as the economy of the NWT continues to develop.