(L to R: Jack Royal, Chairman of IBC, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kathleen Ganley and Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman of Siksika Nation at the announcement)
APTN National News
EDMONTON — The province of Alberta has announced a partnership to help the flooded community members of the Siksika Nation in southern part of the province.
It has been two years since flood waters forced almost 1,000 people from their homes and the community is still dealing with the aftermath working to rebuild homes, roads and other damaged infrastructure.
On Friday a new partnership involving Siksika, the Alberta Government and the Indian Business Corporation was announced that officials say will help boost economic opportunities for the nation.
Siksika has invested $2 million backed by an additional $700,000 from the province to help entrepreneurs build and grow their small businesses.
The announcement comes on the heels of the apology for residential schools by the Alberta Government.
“We are living in times where we need to work together,” said Siksika Chief Vincent Yellow Old Woman who is a residential school survivor and attended the apology.
“I am proud of the partnership today. This is for our members who have a willingness, capacity and a means to move forward. To encourage and to help them see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Aboriginal Relations Minister Kathleen Ganley said small business owners play a central part in Alberta’s economy, entrepreneurs are important to the overall prosperity of Alberta and, especially to the prosperity of Indigenous people.
“There are more businesses owned by Indigenous people today than ever before. For many Indigenous people, starting a business can mean economic prosperity and improve quality of life. Nowhere is this more evident than on First Nation reserves,” said Ganley.
However, many First Nations living on reserve face significant challenges when it comes to accessing capital for business start-ups.
Alberta based Indian Business Corporation (IBC) will administer the project. The IBC is a First Nations owned company founded in 1987 that has since provided close to $70 million in loans and created and funded over 2,500 businesses or expansion ventures.
IBC chairman of the board Jack Royal said they understand the needs of First Nations. The IBC helps to fill the gap between a lack of understanding with lending institutes and First Nations.
“I think the main stream banks, chartered banks, don’t fully understand,” said Royal.
“A part of that has to do with crown title to First Nations land underlying First Nations ownership of the land. The Indian Act and all of the restrictions with the federal minister having to provide various guarantees. As a result they see First Nations as a higher risk and then they don’t fit into mainstream lending opportunities. Through IBC we’re more flexible and we understand how the Indian Act works and how Indian title works and what’s required for security to guarantee loans.”
This partnership is unique in Alberta in that it’s never happened with a First Nation and a First Nation owned company collaborating with the province to deliver programs/services or economic funding directly to First Nations people.
Royal said the initiative will help community members to build independence and will have an impact on social conditions.
“We’re investing in the community, we’re generating revenue. It starts from the ground up. If the people don’t own something, they don’t have the passion for it. I think now because they’ll own these initiatives they’re now able to build that passion,” said Royal.
The two primary business trends in Alberta are the energy sector and agriculture which Royal believes many members will create undertakings in. There is currently even more economic opportunities available in Siksika through the flood restoration efforts and members are already lining up to apply for funding.
Royal hopes more monies will be made available for other Alberta First Nations to take advantage of entrepreneurial ventures in the near future.