Summit Shares Vision for Way Forward

Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel.
L-R Melrene Saloy, Teara Frazier, Stephan Nairn, Jordon Jolicoeur, Jenn Harper and Heather Black who were in the Seed To Success panel. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The Forward Summit was a good distraction from the chaos in world affairs. The February 26-28 event attracted a gathering of industry professionals, bankers, consultants, a dragon, and Indigenous people seeking better communication and participation in today’s economy.

First Nations Drum attended the first two days of the three-day conference held at the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Mohkínstsis – “elbow” in Blackfoot, and their name for Calgary, Alberta. The summit began on a bone-chillingly cold day with Elder Martin Heavy, Head of the Kainai Nation, opening with a Blessing and thank you to the Creator. Following were panel sessions, roundtable discussions, and workshops.

Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates.
Nicole Robertson, one of the organizers for the Forward Summit conference speaks to delegates. Photo by Aaron Many Guns.

The panel sessions started with the First Nation Major Projects Coalition, which is a group of 52 members from across Canada who want to help each other in negotiating the acquisition or building of major infrastructure projects. These projects will bring employment and a degree of financial independence.

Shane Gottfriedson, a former chief of the Tk’emlup First Nation, near Kamloops B.C., gave a keynote speech on his band’s expanded portfolio. They invested in resource development that includes partnership in a gold mine.

He also talked about his own business dealings with friends in starting Powwow Coffee Co. and becoming franchisees with Tim Hortons. They hope to build their Powwow Coffee company to become one of the major suppliers in B.C. and beyond.

The roundtable discussions were held concurrently, so I chose to attend Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation. There were also discussions on hydrocarbons, mining partnerships in Canada, capacity building, and energy gridlock.

Preston Manning was in on the discussion, and he mentioned that the challenges Indigenous people face need support by positive and proactive political will from government to move infrastructure projects along. Removing political risk would make Indigenous participation possible.

Chief Jason Gauthier of the Missanabie Cree First Nation spoke about his band’s involvement in purchasing a railroad in north Ontario, additional agreements in revenue sharing, partnership in a large forestry company, and 70 joint ventures.

Mathew August from Animus Capital Partners explained his firm’s work with Indigenous communities that wish to acquire infrastructure projects and be involved from the planning phase to completion and operations.

Also in the Attracting Capital and Sustainable Economic Participation roundtable discussions were the China Railway First Survey and Design Initiative Group who shared their railway-building expertise. The company is doing a feasibility study on a rail link for the Ring of Fire development in north Ontario.  

Some summit participants were there looking for contacts and possible contracts. Clarence Assassin with Pride Hydrovac was busy networking when I asked him about the work situation in Northern B.C. He replied, “It’s slow like everywhere, but we have people and machinery out there.”

Jack Toth is founder and CEO of Impact Society, a group that works with Indigenous youth and communities. Toth was in attendance to better understand the commitment that industry groups have to holistic youth and community development. He wanted to learn how the Impact Society can partner with industry and communities in a positive manner so opportunities can be maximized.

Dan Pawlachuk from Deh Tai was at the summit getting info for the Fort Nelson First Nation, which has been expanding their business portfolio to include the Laird Hot Springs owned by the band.  

Troy Buchanan, from Modular Home Builder Modus out of Crossfield, Alberta, was there to promote their product to First Nations experiencing housing shortages. Those wanting a quote can contact his team via their website at

A panel session on the second day covered building sustainable relationships. It brought together the Mikisew Cree Nation, McMurray Metis, and Chris Stannell of Teck Resources Ltd. who discussed their involvement in the proposed Frontier Project north of Fort McMurray.

The Mikisew Cree have lived in the area since time immemorial and were opposed to the project initially, but through consultations with all the groups involved, they’ve come to an agreement that will safeguard the environment during construction, operation, and for the duration of the project. This project will need pipelines built and add 260,000 bbl/d to the supply system for the life of the mine.

In the event of a spill, Delta Remediation explained their cleanup procedure that uses petroleum metabolizing organisms to break down spills and help nature heal itself through natural processes.

This method uses naturally occurring microbes, is non GMO, and safe for use in any environment where a pipeline is situated. Across Canada and the U.S., pipelines are having a lot of problems getting started, and those being built are having trouble getting completed.

Chief Clifford White of the Gitxaala Nation spoke of their relationship with LNG Canada and how he’s pushing for legacy projects to help future generations so that when natural resource projects are no longer viable, the wealth created will have been properly invested and provide a return. “We want to make sure that our people are looking at that 7th generation of our children’s children yet to be born,” said White.

Guy Lonechild, CEO of First Nations Power Authority, talked about Indigenous groups getting into solar and clean energy projects. He explained how his group partnered with the Saskatchewan government to deliver 40 megawatts of renewable energy to SaskPower.

Heather Black of Creative Spirit Solutions moderated a panel session of small business entrepreneurs who started up small businesses after getting opportunities either through trial and error, hard work, or luck.

Jordan Jolicoeur is CEO of Carvel Electric who managed to pull off a $300,000 contract through handwork, determination, and a few credit cards. Stephen Nairn is an expert on project risk analysis who saw a lack of risk capital for Indigenous entrepreneurs, so he and some friends started Raven Indigenous Capital Partners.

Teara Fraser always wanted to go to Africa, so when she had a chance to go, it was in a small plane. When the plane banked, she saw what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Frasier become a pilot and founded Iskwew Air, and today she is selling her first air surveying company.

The Growth of the Cannabis and Hemp Industry round table discussion was hosted by Francine Whiteduck and Roland Bellerose of the Cannabis and Hemp Indigenous Consortium Canada. Bellerose spoke of the way many Indigenous people have always known cannabis as a medical plant and this is why we need cooperation from as many Nations as we can get to better lobby for growth and distribution of all types of cannabis products.

Hemp and cannabis are good carbon-capture tools that have the potential to transform our economy by helping to rebuild our manufacturing industry and selling finished products to the rest of the world.  

Reconciliation will take time, but events and conferences like Forward Summit are important for Indigenous and non-native people because they remind us we have too much in common to keep going the way it has been since our ancestors were forced to accept a foreign way of life.

Forward Summit organizers Miki Reeder of Connect Partnership Group and Muskwa Media’s Nicole Robertson wanted Indigenous people who are experts in their fields of work included in the summit. After attending, I found it evident they were successful in attracting those experts. A shout out also to event co-chairs Chief Charles Weaselhead of Kainai Nation and JP Gladu, CEO of Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

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