Bingwi Neeyashi Anishinaabek: Profile of a community on the move

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:32

When it comes to long-term community development, it may be best to start from scratch.
That was the approach forced on Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (BNA) First Nation, after its traditional lands were displaced in the early 1900s to make room for a provincial park.
One century later BNA is well underway with the process to reclaim those lands. Its work started with the 2011 reserve allocation on the eastern shores of Lake Nipigon, an area known as Sand Point, and has continued with a series of plans and proposals that, if successful, may well make BNA an iconic name when it comes to First Nation development.
“There are a lot of big things happening,” said BNA chief Paul Gladu. “It’s an exciting time for this First Nation.”
Gladu’s enthusiasm on the future of his community is palpable, and for good reason. Earlier this yeah BNA was one of two First Nations in Ontario selected for a coveted Land Management Act that eliminates many of the restrictions placed on First Nations under the Indian Act.
And late last year the community was one of eight First Nations in Canada, the only in Ontario, selected as part of a pilot project developing land use plans on reserve.
Those two pieces of development have given BNA’s leadership unprecedented say over what happens on the First Nation’s reserve lands. No longer is a signature from a federal minister necessary for BNA to approve a development. No longer does the First Nation have to wait two to three years to get all the necessary paperwork filled out by the government before starting a project.
The result has been a number of big plans for economic development for the burgeoning reserve, from a sawmill and wood pellet plant to wind and solar power developments and a 5-star eco-resort.
Add in the fact that the community is building its reserve from scratch and BNA has the makings of what may come to be one of the most economically successful First Nations in northern Ontario.
The past
BNA is one of six First Nations that have always called the shores of Lake Nipigon home. But in the early 1950s, as Lake Nipigon Provincial Park was established, the community was displaced from its traditional territory at Sand Point, its members spread out across northwestern Ontario.
Nearly a century later BNA started negotiations with the federal government on reestablishing itself at Sand Point. Those negotiations resulted in the southern half of Lake Nipigon Provincial Park, including the campground area and trails that are the only access into the park, being designated as BNA land in 1999.
Today the approximately 230 members of BNA are still scattered throughout northwestern Ontario, with small populations living in Thunder Bay, Rocky Bay, Pays Plat and Beardmore. The band’s head office is in Thunder Bay, as is Chief Gladu and his staff.
But much of that will change over the next few years. The First Nation plans to build at least 50 homes on its reserve at Sand Point, along with the development projects currently in the planning stages. Gladu said he has heard from many of the community’s elders that want to move back to the reserve, and expects to have anywhere from 60 – 100 jobs on the reserve in a decade.
“There’s a real desire for people to move back and reclaim the territory,” Gladu said.
Four pillars of the economy
BNA’s economic development reflects the economic development model prevalent across northern Ontario. It includes forestry, energy development, tourism and mining. The ideas being developed are not unique, yet combining them all on a small scale to fit the needs of one First Nation is.
Plans for a sawmill and wood pellet plant are leading the way for the First Nation, while getting a lot of attention from governments and other First Nations. But the forestry initiatives are only one part of a package that includes a massive wind power farm, a lakeside resort and a partnership on a proposed lithium mine just outside the reserve.
In terms of forestry projects, the crux of BNA’s development revolves on the community being one of four First Nations granted control over the Lake Nipigon forest allotment. That has guaranteed wood for the community’s uses, and allowed BNA leadership to move forward on building a sawmill and wood pellet mill on the reserve.
The sawmill will be the first piece of infrastructure built. Last autumn the community’s contractors leveled the site of the mill, and construction is expected to begin within a month. Gladu said he expects the sawmill to open in August or September of 2012. An estimated 21 direct jobs and four indirect jobs are expected in the facility.
An interrelated part of BNA’s forestry plan is a wood pellet facility, that will use the sawdust and waste wood from the sawmill plus additional wood allocations to create pellets for wood burning heat. Gladu said construction on the estimated $15 million project should start later this year, with production of wood pellets beginning in late autumn 2012. The facility is eventually expected to employ 16 people directly and another 15 indirectly.
On the energy front, BNA has plans for solar, wind and biomass energy projects to power homes and industry on the reserve, as well as export power south. Much of the power will be generated by wind, through a partnership with Innergex on a $600 million wind power project.
The First Nation claims that 20 to 25 megawatts of wind power will be generated for electricity on reserve, with an additional 260 megawatts of wind power to be exported south.
As for tourism, a proposed $15 million 5-star Eco-lodge set for the shores of Lake Nipigon has been put on hold due to the economic downturn, but Gladue said it is only a matter of the economy improving for that project to take off. BNA also wants to build a lake front cottage development in partnership with the other eastern Lake Nipigon First Nations.
BNA is also working with Rock Tech on a proposed lithium mine near the community, with expected mine operation beginning in 2014.
Secrets to economic development success
The kinds of economic development that BNA is undertaking are not new. Many communities around northern Ontario and across Canada have started forestry projects, gotten involved in new mines, built wind and solar projects and started tourism initiatives. But what BNA is embarking on – building a community from the ground up and providing employment for band members with small-scale industrial projects – is a unique type of development with the potential to hold many lessons for other First Nations across the country.
When asked what the secret is to BNA’s economic development planning success, Chief Gladu pointed to the highly educated staff that the First Nation has recruited.
“You need these kind of people to work with you in your office,” Gladue said, noting the band has hired lawyers, economic development officers and planners. “It makes it a lot easier when you have the right people in the right places.”
He noted that when First Nations hire consultants to assist with projects or long-term planning, the First Nation may save money but in return gets an employee with no vested interest in the community or its long-term success.
“BNA could have hired consultants, but the result would not have been the same,” Galdu said.
“Here our staff have high credentials and they are compensated fairly, and they are dedicated to the cause. They are here to help the community emancipate itself from poverty.”
Wilfred King is one of the staff that Gladu relies on for both long-term planning and day-to-day operations.
For King, the former chief at Gull Bay First Nation, the lessons that BNA holds is that First Nations have to learn from each other, and other non-native communities.
When BNA started looking at what economic development opportunities existed, King explained, it based its plans on the successes and failures of other First Nations and other communities.
“Communities can learn from each other,” King said.
“Why reinvent the wheel? We can learn from the good practices of others, and from others’ mistakes. Here, we’re not shy. We like to borrow from others.”

See also

12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37
12/01/2015 - 19:37