Khelsilem (Dustin Rivers), right, elected councillor and spokesperson for Squamish Nation, embraces Tsleil-Waututh Nation councillor Charlene Aleck in celebration before First Nations leaders respond to a Federal Court of Appeal ruling on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, during a news conference in Vancouver on August 30, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

FRANK BUCHOLTZ

The Canadian economy seems strong, but there are many signs pointing to underlying weakness. Among these are minimal research and development spending, lagging productivity when compared to other nations, and shrinking business investment.

As B.C. residents know only too well, much economic activity in recent years has been related to real estate. This has come at the expense of other aspects of economic growth. While real estate sales and residential construction activity are an important component of the economy, they have been disproportionately larger than usual.

One aspect of the economy that is growing and has great potential in B.C. is aboriginal business activity. A Maclean’s article by JP Gladu, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, stated that indigenous business activity contributed over $31 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2016, and continues to grow.

READ MORE: Signs of real estate innovation after Supreme Court decision opens housing data

We experienced the hum of this economic engine firsthand during a recent stay at a B.C. destination that was purchased in 2015 by the Ktunaxa people – the Lower Kootenay First Nation. Ainsworth Hot Springs resort is located in the small town of the same name about half an hour’s drive east of Nelson, on the west shore of Kootenay Lake.

The hot springs have been a place of healing and refreshment for the Ktunaxa people for many generations. Known to them as Nupika Wu’u (Spirit Waters), the springs are a place where warriors came to refresh after defending their territory. Others suffering from ailments such as arthritis could begin to feel better.

READ MORE: Lower Kootenay Band purchasing Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort

When prospectors of European descent swarmed over the area in the 1880s in search of silver, lead and gold, they too discovered the hot springs. Since that time, people of all backgrounds have made their way to what was once a fairly inaccessible spot in order to experience some of the same refreshment.

The resort has a distinct aboriginal theme, from the artwork and decor in hotel rooms to the aboriginal-themed menu in the Ktunaxa Grill. The caves where hot water bubbles up and the pools are incredibly refreshing and peaceful.

Similar economic activity involving B.C. First Nations has been growing in volume and variety for the past 30 years. It has become much more significant as a result of treaties signed with the Nisga’a people in the late 1990s and more recently, with the Tsawwassen First Nation. The latter is B.C.’s first modern treaty with a First Nation in an urban setting, and has led to development of a massive shopping mall, an Amazon warehouse and a number of real estate projects. Future economic activity in conjunction with the Port of Vancouver is also planned.

Planned LNG developments in Kitimat and Squamish have extensive involvements with First Nations and are seen by leaders as permanent solutions to creating jobs and opportunities for their band members.

READ MORE: Squamish Nation-led housing project in Vancouver to double in size

These are just a few of the significant economic steps that First Nations have taken. The recent passage of Bill 41 in the B.C. Legislature, which will lead to present and future policies and laws being written or revised to ensure aboriginal rights are respected, is likely to lead to much more activity in the future.

All B.C. residents will benefit from economic activity which values and builds upon the unique place aboriginal people have in our society.

Frank Bucholtz is a columnist and former editor with Black Press Media. Email him at frank.bucholtz@blackpress.ca

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