Archive for October, 2011

Grizzly Bear Business

The Orford River Valley boasts one of the heaviest concentrations of Grizzly Bears in British Columbia.  This traditional home of the Homalco Indian Band was abandoned many years ago but is now being resurrected by a fortunate confluence of events which would have been hard to imagine in years past.

The Homalco have found a willing ally in Mr. Wynne Powell, the CEO of London Drugs Ltd, the company which also owns The Senora Resort, a luxury wilderness lodge located nearby. The company and the band have joined forces by combining their unique abilities to make this a Grizzly viewing mecca especially for European tourists who are enamored by the abundance of wildlife in British Columbia.

The band first restored the Orford River salmon run and then added value by selling tours to watch the bears eat fish. Mr Powell, an avid Grizzly photographer and a frequent customer of the trips saw where he could help the band grow their business by offering a two day program for the six-member grizzly bear crew where the company’s training program in customer handling skills was redesigned to make it relevant to wilderness bear guides. 

The results have been remarkable and could not have occured if either group had acted in isolation. Whereas in the past the guides would have ad-libbed, there are now prescribed welcoming speeches, set tour schedules and a series of carvings which serve as talking points for the guides to explain Homalco legends. The guides have become more confident and polished in their presentations and because of the interest of the outside world for the Homalco culture, there is a renewed enthusiasm and pride on the reserve about the past, with some of the guides trying to learn their largely forgotten Homalco language. The Bear Tour has now become a must-do experience for visitors to the lodge and the cultural dimension provided by the guides is priceless.

What a great template for other aboriginal business ventures to emulate. I have seen modern resorts owned by Indian bands in BC where there is a disappointing number of aboriginal employees which completely misses the point, since these businesses were meant to provide employment opportunities for aboriginal youth. A cooperative approach like the above could be the answer to getting these ventures on the right track of providing good jobs, renewed cultural pride and a valuable educational experience for visitors.

Aboriginal Education going in the Wrong Direction

As mentioned before on this blog, about sixty percent of aboriginal kids drop out of high school which is way too high. Now I see that the number of young aboriginal women going to prison has shot up by forty percent in the last decade.

Is this where they’re going to get their education? Hope not!

Aboriginal women have always played a vital role in the life of their communities and now is the time when opportunities of a lifetime are becoming available that will enable them to lead their communities into a brighter future.  Come on ladies, it’s your turn to shine, not to rot in some black hole. With the new Aboriginal Health Authority being established in British Columbia, the options for young aboriginal women to attain stimulating, respected, and well paying health careers is staggering. The bus is leaving pretty mama. Don’t get left behind.

Aboriginal Education and BC Health Authority

B.C First Nations signed an historic agreement today with the provincial and federal governments that will transfer responsibility for the administration of $380 million aboriginal health care dollars to a newly created First Nations Health Authority. Federal Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Grand Chief Doug Kelly and Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo said the agreement will streamline administration and integration of health services which will result in remarkable improvements in the health and well-being of BC First Nations and will be a step forward in First Nations taking back responsibility for their own lives and communities.

Sounds good on paper but is this really going to be the case or will it turn into another insatiable bureaucractic nightmare? Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said he is not clear how it will work on the ground since it is such revolutionary idea. I don’t like the sound of that!

This process is going to take time and there will be a steep learning curve, but for the sake of all aboriginal families I hope that this bold initiative will provide inspiration for young aboriginals to stay in school and pursue meaningful careers in health care delivery rather than just becoming another soft cushy mattrass for paper-pushers and politicians. Go for it kids. The future is bright and you are the future.

Suicide Prevention:The Power of Love and a Good Job

Chief Shawn Atleo of The Assembly of First Nations today commended all federal parliamentarians for coming together to support a national suicide prevention strategy. First Nations communities are particularly hit hard with suicide rates being five to seven times higher than among other Canadians.

This is good as far as it goes, but a suicide prevention program alone will not be effective unless it is an integral part of a larger effort to promote practical education and training programs that are targeted to provide good paying jobs so young aboriginals can see a more positive outlook for their future.

The pivotal role of friends and family in providing a safety net of love and encouragement along the way cannot be underestimated either. If it wasn’t for the unconditional love of Padre Joe Murphy, Blue Saltwater would have jumped off the Lions Gate Bridge and never reached his goal of returning to Haida Gwaii.