Senior staff Derrick Mitchell and Brenda Fernie

Langley-based Kwantlen First Nation big on business

This is part two in a multi-part series about Kwantlen First Nation.

This year’s dismal salmon returns in the Fraser River are a stark example of why a community can no longer rely on one industry.

That’s not always easy, particulary for First Nations whose lives are still impacted by the Indian Act, federal legislation that governs everything from health and education to property rights and resources.

A few years ago, Kwantlen First Nation took a big step in taking back some control over its economic future.

The Seyem Qwantlen business group was created in 2011.

“It was created after a lot of council and elders discussion,” said Seyem president Tumia Knott.

Kwantlen First Nation owns the business group which also receives guidance from a community elders group.

“It’s about moving away from having others do it for us,” Knott said.

KFN has just under 300 members with about 100 living on reserve. The main reserve is about 400 acres. A few people live on reserve lands in Maple Ridge.

Knott said there’s a sizeable youth population. That’s a trend in First Nations across Canada.

“We foresee more members moving back and living on reserve,” she said.

So Seyem is vital to help the community be sustainable, both in the green eco sense and in the green financial sense.

KFN also has reserve lands in Maple Ridge near Albion and Whonnock, and one near the Mission River.

Seyem also serves another key function – providing members with opportunties for skills development and job training in various sectors. It currently has about 100 employees but about 40 per cent are band members. Some are from other First Nations and some are non-native.

Seyem isn’t about excluding others but helping KFN members find their place in the community and society. It’s the difference between make work projects or building careers.

“A lot of opportunties in the past were short term,” she said.

When a contract expired, the person was out of a job.

Knott said Seyem is one way for KFN to work with other First Nations and non-native groups whether that’s with construction firms on housing development or governments on tourism opportunities, for instance.

They didn’t try and reinvent the wheel and looked at various models of operation.

“We spent a lot of time researching and visiting other First Nations communities,” Knott said.

She said they want to control the growth so it doesn’t get away from them and choose business ventures that fit in with the expectations of the community. Seyem Qwantlen isn’t just about making a profit. It must operate within a framework that values environmental stewardship as much as shareholder profit.

The business group very specifically sought out endeavours in different sectors of the economy, relying on a diversified approach. There’s a security company, a construction/development branch, IT, lelem Arts and Cultural Cafe overlooking Bedford Channel, Šxwimele Gifts (the museum at the Fort Langley National Historic Site), and an 800-hectare woodlot in the Blue Mountains.

Not everything has been a slam dunk. The business group worked on a large development in on the north side of the Fraser River.

The area has no services (sewer and water).

“The costs are high so that’s an obstacle,” she explained.

The plan was a large commercial development to fund servicing to make the project viable.

Knott said the timing was wrong. They were searching for large anchor tenants at a time when big retailers were shuttering Canadian operations or scaling back.

“We had good interest from smaller retail folks. We needed the big players,” Knott said.

So it’s backburnered while attention is focused on other projects.

One of the most high profile projects in Seyem’s short existance is the Mercedes Benz dealership in Langley City. KFN owns the site of the Dilawri dealdership.

Many of the projects and initiatives are on KFN reserve lands which used to be larger on both sides of the Fraser River.

“The reserve land we have has high economic value,” Knott explained.

That was not overlooked by governments even decades ago.

Back in the 1940s and ’50s the federal government sold sections of Kwantlen reserve lands, in New Westminster (where the B.C. Penetentiary once stood) and in Surrey by the Patullo Bridge with no input from what was then called the Langley Indian Band.

And the main reserve, on McMillan Island in Fort Langley, still bears the impact of government decision makers, namely environmental contamination, such as at the former Albion ferry site and the former Atlantic Waste site.

In November 2015, KFN ratified a land code which gives the community more control over its lands. KFN has also made itself a land management nation, a designation under the Indian Act and Knott said that gave it signficantly more say about the future of the lands.

Seyem is a way for the members to have more of a voice in the economic development that takes place on those lands.

“Before Seyem, all our economic development was handled for us [by the Department of Indian Affairs],” Knott said.


Kwantlen First Nation series:

Sharing the tales, free summer walking tours

Market spotlights native culture

Education comes from more than books

Land and territory

Just Posted

Langley baseball team brings aid to Puerto Rico

Blaze raised $50,000 for the trip to

Langley chamber joins call to kill ‘no pipeline ever’ law

Bill C-69 will hurt the local Langley economy, Chamber warns

World Day of Prayer returns to Langley

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is hosting the annual day on March 1.

Young Langley family plagued by angry cab customers

A couple rents a house formerly used by a cab firm, and unwelcome visitors knocking.

Woman groped on Langley’s 208th Street

Police are asking for tips to identify the man responsible.

Proposed edible pot rules are wasteful, would leave products tasteless: critics

When Canada legalized weed last fall, it only allowed fresh or dried bud, oil, plants and seeds

Samsung folding phone is different – but also almost $2,000

But most analysts see a limited market for foldable-screen phones

Alcohol policies fizzle for Canadian governments as harms overflow: reports

About 80 per cent of Canadians drink, and most enjoy a drink or two

Ontario man accused of killing 11-year-old daughter dies in hospital, police say

Roopesh Rajkumar had been hospitalized with what police described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Manitoba ‘pauses’ link with ex-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell after allegations

Campbell had been hired to review two major hydro projects

Heritage minute features Japanese-Canadian baseball team, internment

The Vancouver Asahi baseball team won various championships across the Pacific Northwest

UPDATE: Woman, off-duty cop in critical condition after stabbing outside B.C. elementary school

The officer was interceding in an alleged assault when he and the woman were stabbed

$10-a-day child care not in 2019 budget, but advocate not irked

Sharon Gregson with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C. says NDP on track to deliver promise

Most Read