The Mikuska Group  

An invitation leads to understanding

Yesterday I went to visit Swan Lake First Nation as part of a busload of members of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

The trip came about after Darrell Cole of Career Trek and E.J. Fontaine of Anishinabek Consultants/ challenged members of the WCC at a breakfast last year to start breaking down barriers with First Nations people and getting to know them. Darrell and E.J. were in fact astonished when they asked who among the attendees would go on a trip to a First Nation, and almost everyone in the News Cafe put up their hand, me included.

Like many others on the bus, I had never visited a First Nation, having only seen them by driving through on the way to the lake. So this was a great chance to learn about the history of SLFN, about the issues they face and what they are doing about them.

Dave Scott, SLFN historian and treaty researcher, was our guide on the bus. He was a wonderful storyteller, and by the time we got to SLFN home community, we had heard about history, culture, treaty relations and how the community takes care of its members. I was impressed with how warmly we were welcomed by everyone we met, including the young people holding open the doors to the community centre and shaking our hands as we entered.

The band focuses on community development through economic prosperity. They have deep ties to the land and own it collectively. They seek partners to share in the prosperity who can provide jobs for their people. They are entrepreneurial people who look for opportunities to build their community.

SLFN wasn’t always this way. Up until a few years ago, they struggled with a crippling debt and a housing crisis. They turned themselves around using revenues that came from gas bars, tobacco sales and gaming centres built on lands acquired through the Treaty Land Entitlement Settlement with the federal government.

But it wasn’t just the revenues that turned them around. They chose a path that would collectively take them out of poverty and into prosperity. They look after each other and monitor threats such as drugs and alcohol. They elect strong and stable leadership who are responsive to the community. And they invite people in so we can start to understand each other.

There are a few things to be learned from SLFN for your organization:

  • Make decisions that collectively make you stronger and don’t create silos.
  • Monitor threats and look for opportunities.
  • Be entrepreneurial.
  • Ensure strong leadership that is responsive to your organization and clients.
  • Invite people in to take a look – you will start building relationships with them.

Julie Mikuska


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