Economic development in a First Nations community
How Zeidler and Loon River FN teamed up to benefit both parties
(Brian Pitcairn worked for the Loon River, among several other First Nations, over a 40-plus-year career in north central Alberta in a variety of roles. This is the first of a series of three letters to the editor by him on the subject of economic development, based on his experience in Loon River.)
To the Editor:
In 1996, when I went to work as general manager at Loon River, the First Nation Council made a decision to develop their economy and settle their land base. These decisions would improve the economic life of their members and grant them a measure of independence from government.
The operational application of the strategy took the following parameters:
- Timber development agreement
- Oil resource development, and
- Commercial development of the community construction company.
The future reserve lands due to Loon River First Nation had been earmarked out, but not yet transferred over to Indian status. These designated lands were largely rich in timber, no harvesting haven taken place since 1986.
The First Nation was in final negotiations on its treaty land settlement, and would receive no funding until the treaty settlement was signed off. At that time, Zeidler Forest Products at Mitsue approached Loon River through its general manager Garry Labby, to talk about getting access to the timber. Gary and I discussed the issue and then met with Chief Noskey to flesh out the plan.
Essentially, it involved an agreement between Loon River and Zeidlers whereby the company would advance funds to Loon River that would enable the First Nation to stay afloat financially until the treaty settlement was completed.
The basic terms of the deal were for Zeidlers to advance in one payment a sum of cash that would allow the First Nation to stay afloat for one year. In return, Loon River pledged timber on the future reserve as collateral for the cash advance. To be repaid in full with wood.
This timber deal was confirmed by a handshake between myself and Mr. Labby, a letter exchanged between us and a formal band council resolution executed under the Indian Act, confirming the terms of the deal.
The funds enabled Loon River to finish their treaty settlement with the Crown and started the implementation of same.
Mrs. Zeidler, owner of Zeidler Forest Products, had advanced the funds in the belief that it was in the long-term interest of her company to support First Nation development in a manner profitable to all. Although the timber deal was a moral handshake more than anything based upon the data supplied by Gary Labby and I, she felt it was worth the effort.
Mrs. Zeidler’s support, with Gary Labby, on the deal meant that the First Nation leadership was able to conclude the treaty settlement one year later, in 1998.
The deal brought needed infrastructure to Loon Lake and the necessary land base for resource development.
Zeidler Forest Products gave an example of a corporate relations model for companies in the resource business to follow with First Nations in the future.