In British Columbia, the Penticton Indian Band has a goal: to become self-sustaining. Through the development of a community action plan, the forming of partnerships and the sharing of business learning, it is well on its way to getting there. Chief Jonathan Kruger spoke with editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe.
First, tell me about the Comprehensive Community Plan.
The Comprehensive Community Plan was a plan that I promised in my election, as my platform. It’s now one of the best comprehensive community plans in Canada. We put it together right from our toddlers to our elders. It was a community-driven project, where we talked about our wishes, our dreams and our needs, and we prioritized them.
You also focused on setting up positive relationships with municipalities and the provincial and federal governments. How did you do that?
I think it’s important to work with everybody. We’re all in this together and we all have to work together, and live together, and play together.
Is it paying dividends?
It certainly is paying dividends. It’s a learning process for us all. With the regional district, for example, they have a different governance structure, but it’s similar to our council structure. And municipalities and regional districts don’t know that we have to do extra work.
You’re a board member of the Aboriginal Business and Investment Council. What is it and what does it do?
We want to showcase the First Nations communities that are doing really well in business, so they can be more self-sustaining. We can promote them to other First Nations communities – give them snapshots of ideas of what they can do in their homeland, or in their territories, or in their First Nations communities.
How many businesses have you touched with this Council?
We had a symposium last year, and now we have a website. We want to showcase some good stories and we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re looking for more stories from First Nations. There’s one story I really like: different bands, these different Nations, joined their forest resources together to get more logs and to create a bigger business.
Can other First Nations learn from this as well?
Exactly. If we can set those good examples and success stories that can help other First Nations, then our goal is met: to help them, so they can use that as a resource.
Tell me about the Penticton Indian Band Development Corporation (PIBDC).
We have three businesses on the Penticton Indian Band: Coyote Cruises, Westhills Aggregates, and Snpinktn Forestry. We have an advisory board that’s been working on things like Skaha Hills, formerly known as the Arrowleaf. Our goal is to do a golf course, housing development, and we’re in a referendum right now for a winery and a small vineyard.
Are you separating government and business dealings?
We’ve separated the business from the politics. Our job, from a leadership standpoint, is to get the land designated for economic development. Once it’s designated, the PIBDC comes in there and makes the best deal for the community that it possibly can.
Politics gets in the way of business, and in business you can’t have anything slow business down. I think a lot of First Nations in British Columbia, in Canada, are slowly recognizing that. You see more success stories happening every year.
You have said, “We’re becoming self-sustaining in terms of operations.” Is that your long-term goal?
Of course. We can’t rely on government funding forever. It’s not enough, and the needs of our people, our community members, are huge. We need to generate those funds ourselves. It’ll empower us, it’ll make us proud. I would love to pay for Blue Cross for all our band members, not just the employees. I would love to send every one of our kids to school. And if we have some older people who want to go back to school – if they want a better life – we can make money to provide that for them.
And what’s the biggest challenge you face?
The challenge is communication. We have to always continue to communicate with our community members, we have to let them know what we’re doing is in the best interests of our children and our future generations. When you start moving really fast, it makes people nervous, but that’s one thing you learn in business: business moves very fast. And we need to learn how to trust our leadership and our staff, because their intentions are good.