TORONTO – When Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear was elected in 1991, his community was facing many hurdles, including a major financial debt and a 70 per cent unemployment rate. With a bleak past and an uncertain future, Whitecap faced a tough road ahead.
Chief Bear played a lead role in developing a financial plan, a self-governing land-code that enabled his community to sell long-term lease hold interests, this gave them the capital needed to stimulate financial growth, and build Dakota Dunes, named the best golf course in Saskatchewan by SCOREGolf and top 20 in Canada by Golf Digest.
The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business will award Chief Bear the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame’s 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala in Toronto on Feb. 2, for his part in transforming Dakota Whitecap First Nation from a disadvantaged community to a strong and flourishing one.
“We went from a 70 per cent unemployment rate, to a 5 per cent unemployment rate; we now have 680 jobs with 500 people commuting from Saskatoon on a daily basis to come and work in our community,” Chief Bear told Nation Talk.
Chief Bear emphasized the importance of communities working together for a common goal.
“Everything we’ve done is about partnership and mutual benefit. It’s something our ancestors practiced many years before I was here,” he said.
The community created a property tax, in doing so they were able invest in infrastructure, working with the city of Saskatoon to upgrade highway 219 and integrate a tourism corridor going into the reserve.
“Out of the five phases (of the highway project) three of those phases, Whitecap managed that project for the government. It was the first time in the province’s history that First Nations actually managed a highway project,” Bear said. “Our partners wanted to band the tourism corridor and call it Chief Whitecap Trail, it was the first time in the provinces history that a highway is named after a chief.”
Bear received high praise from Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
“Under Chief Bear’s leadership Whitecap Dakota First Nations has gained status and respect as an economic force within our province,” Wall stated in a letter. “His ability, a talent I have seen first hand to work with governments and businesses in a constructive way to find solutions and achieve results is widely recognized.”
The ABHOF’s 2016 National Youth Aboriginal Entrepreneur Award went to Jacob Pratt, founder and creative director of Wambdi, a special events company, which performs and teaches dance and music, as well as deliver motivational speeches.
“I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s a pretty big honour, I’m still trying to let it set in and what it means for me and my company and my future,” Pratt said.
Wambdi covers events across Canada and the United States, when Pratt started the company he didn’t anticipate its growth.
“I started it simply as a mean to legitimize myself and turn my performing professional and right away I realized that I needed more people to help me. As soon as I brought in a couple of more people, the company just started growing and in the next year I was playing catch up to the company because it was growing in ways I wasn’t expecting,” he explained.
As part of the award Pratt will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
Candidates submitted 30 to 60 second videos describing their business. A committee made up of Canadians in the business community selected the winner.
“The scope and ingenuity of the submissions made the selection process so difficult because to me everyone is a winner, but sadly only one can take home the prize,” stated JP Gladu, President and CEO of the CCAB.
Andre Morriseau, is the CCAB’s Director of Awards and Communications, he believes the technology aspect of the application made it convenient for individuals to tell their story.
“We live in a changed world, and it’s amazing how fast the digital world has come, it’s helped to connect our young people,” Morriseau said. “So I say yes technology is definitely a driving force that brings their creativity to the table and makes them want to get involved and take a shot at winning.”
He explained the importance of highlighting success and improving the public perception of Aboriginals.
“We have got to change the thinking of the average Canadian, we had such a bad time of it for so long to put it mildly, yet there is such success going on out there in the aboriginal business world and our youth are the next up and coming generation of real entrepreneurs in this country,” Morriseau said.
Pratt said growing up Aboriginal, he encountered plenty of stereotypes.
“All Aboriginal people are born with stereotypes applied to them. Whether they do apply to them or not. I’ve grown up with lots of stereotypes applied to me that were never true,” he said.
He recalled a time when he was interviewed for a story by a Toronto based business magazine.
“I had a journalist who worked for a magazine write an article about me, and the editors loved the story until they saw my picture and saw I’m First Nations and they killed the story,” he said.
He says he wants to see a lot more success stories from young aboriginal entrepreneurs and advises that desire and love for the craft should always be the key motivator,
“Being an entrepreneur isn’t about money, it’s about your passion. When you find something you love then you should pursue it. It will take hard work and determination to be successful, but if you love what you’re doing you will like going to work every day. Nobody can make you successful but you so get out there and put in the work,” Pratt said.