By Rick Garrick
THUNDER BAY – Plans to develop energy projects to build self-sustainable communities were raised at the Robinson Superior Economic Development Think Tank.
“As long as the water runs, the grass is green and the (sun shines), that will be our treasury,” says Pic River representative Roy Michano about his community’s upcoming hydro project. “We have the capacity written in the agreement that we will buy out our partners.”
Michano says his community’s grandchildren will benefit in the future from the upcoming project, noting his community already benefits from two previously completed hydro projects.
“The first project we had a 10 per cent net profit on it,” Michano says. “The second project we got 38 per cent. And those two projects give us roughly $4 million a year.”
Michano also raised potential opportunities from forestry and ecotourism during the Think Tank, held Feb. 3 at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay.
Rocky Bay Chief Bart Hardy says economic self-sustainability is a future goal for his community, noting the community has already built a gas station and is working to enhance their commercial fishing opportunities and to get their sawmill operating again.
“We are involved in some energy projects,” Hardy says. “That is going to make us less reliant on government dollars at the end of the day. That’s my goal.”
Hardy also wants to participate in a Robinson Superior economic summit, as suggested during the Think Tank.
“Let’s agree to move forward on this with a collective voice,” Hardy says. “That is the only way we are going to get anywhere.”
Red Rock First Nation Councillor Ed Wawia says his community has invested in a number of off-reserve office rental buildings in the area since 2008.
“We bought a school building (in Thunder Bay) and turned it into an office building,” Wawia says, noting the community bought the building through a loan, which was paid off in three years. “Today we have four buildings off-reserve and we’re bringing in a total of $450,000 a year, clear.”
Wawia says the community is currently in the process of purchasing a 4,500 square foot building and is considering the purchase of a 10,000 square foot building.
“That would bring our portfolio up to about $750,000 (per year),” Wawia says. “Today, (from) the money we have earned off these buildings, we are building a brand-new $2.8 million band office.”
Wawia says the community plans to continue purchasing more buildings in the future.
“It’s a very lucrative business — one that we are very proud of,” Wawia says. “Just make sure you search out your buildings so you are not spending an outrageous amount on upgrades and renovations.”
Barret Dokis, economic development coordinator for the Union of Ontario Indians, says Red Rock First Nation’s office rental business helps with economic leakage from the community.
“It goes back to the whole concept of leakage — the concept that a dollar never stays in the community more than a day,” Dokis says. “You get your check and then you run into Thunder Bay and you buy your groceries and go to the Walmarts. It’s one way that these communities are going outside their community and looking at opportunities and bringing that money back into the community.”