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First Nations Business Award of Excellence: Attawapiskat Enterprises

“What we’re trying to do is make sure everyone has the opportunity and everyone gains. It’s trying to spread and share the wealth and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate.”

Attawapiskat Enterprises has been a driving force within the James Bay coastal First Nation community with its successful track record of business creation that’s improved the lives of its members and contributed to the economy of northeastern Ontario.

The corporation was established in 2005 after the signing of an impact benefit agreement between Attawapiskat First Nation and DeBeers Canada.

Serving as the community’s economic development arm, its intent was to create training and business opportunities from the anticipated spinoffs from the Victor diamond mine development by landing mine-related contracts, through joint venture arrangements and other revenuegenerating opportunities.

The mine, 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat, lies within the community’s traditional territory.

The corporation (originally called Attawapiskat Resources) has adhered to a phased strategy built around reaching partnership arrangements with postsecondary educational institutes and with the suppliers that service the mine.

Between 2006 and 2010, a number of key joint ventures were formed with blasting, transportation, fabrication and mechanical companies which offered up training and job opportunities for Attawapiskat members.

Attawapiskat Enterprises works to ensure that when contracts come open, all the available local contractors and labour are maximized to its fullest potential, said CEO Bob Dickson.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure everyone has the opportunity and everyone gains. It’s trying to spread and share the wealth and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate.”

The joint ventures have evolved to where Attawapiskat Enterprises oversees three First Nations-owned companies that collectively employ 120 workers.

When the catering contract opened up at the Victor Mine, it afforded the opportunity to start Attawapiskat Catering in 2010 which provides employment and career paths for local members and people from the coastal communities.

The company now handles all the housekeeping and maintenance duties at Victor and has secured contracts to service other remote exploration and mining camps across northeastern Ontario.

Next was their acquisition of Advanced Security in Timmins, the first Indigenousowned security firm in eastern Canada.

With close to 20 contracts, the firm provides site security at Northern College, mining and hydro-electric dam projects, and performs loss prevention services in the Timmins area.

Following that was the creation of Attawapiskat Cellular in 2012, which delivers cell phone service that’s improved the local quality of life, made it safer for members to do traditional activities on the land, and enhanced business opportunities.

Attawapiskat Enterprises is now partnering with a Timmins industrial contractor which was awarded the Victor Mine closure remediation contract, running through to 2022.

In representing the community and its partners, the corporation will ensure that local contractors and labourers will be involved in that project in some capacity.

“Our objective is to hire Aboriginal people,” said Dickson, “and we push hard to make it happen, but we also want people to work together.”

A non-Indigenous person receiving a paycheque from a solid First Nation company achieves a number of goals in promoting relationship-building and cultural awareness, he said.

Attawapiskat Enterprises is free from any political interference, answering only to its own private board of directors.

Not reliant on any community funding, the corporation regularly deposits dividends into a community trust and supports other local causes.

“We contribute $80,000 to $100,000 in donations to the community every year,” said Dickson.

Over the life of the corporation that’s amounted to $2.7 million, including $1.2 million in the last eight years.