Skip to content
Sponsored Content

Witset chief advocates for trust at IPSS 2023

Burns Lake-based Drax Indigenous relations lead Mark Puglas applauds Vancouver panel on business-Indigenous partnerships
Left, Chief Barry Nikal, Witset First Nation. Right, Mark Puglas, Director of Indigenous Engagement. Photos courtesy Drax

Burns Lake-based Drax Indigenous relations lead Mark Puglas applauds Vancouver panel on business-Indigenous partnerships

On the first day of the 2023 Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase (IPSS), an economic reconciliation-themed business conference that took place from June 1 to 2 in Vancouver, Barry Nikal and Dennis Callaghan spoke about the need for building trust when fostering successful partnerships between business and First Nations.

“Come talk to us, don’t send me emails, don’t send me letters,” Nikal urged this year’s conference delegates, who numbered a record 1,200 in total.

“Come talk to us first, don’t go get your permits first. Because to us, that means you’re going to get the government’s permission first. Our territory, our consultation, starts with us.”

Burns Lake-based Mark Puglas, Director of Indigenous Engagement and Partnerships at Drax Canada, introduced the panel on the Vancouver Convention Centre stage. He emphasized how good relationships between businesses and First Nations create strong economies.

Nikal is a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en Tsayu Clan, as well as the Witset Nation’s elected Chief. Callaghan is the Chief Financial Officer of the ROGA group, which operates multiple companies in the natural resource sector.

Kyah Resources Inc. is part of the ROGA Group and specializes in project management and construction services within the natural resources sector, with a focus on industries like energy, mining, and forestry. The company operates a timber harvesting division responsible for tasks such as harvesting and right-of-way clearing.

“We want to leave a legacy,” stated Callaghan. “Once the majority of the management team is from the community and it’s obvious that they can run the company without us, we will step aside, and Kyah is going to be 100 percent band-owned.”

Current ownership of Kyah Resources is evenly split between the Witset, who are Wet’suwet’en, and ROGA. Kyah Resources has actively participated in various projects, including right-of-way clearing for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline worth $38 million.

“We wanted a true, meaningful partnership; we didn’t want just a little share,” explained Nikal. “We wanted 50-50, and that’s what ROGA came to the table with.”

Nikal lauded ROGA’s commitment to supporting the Witset in addressing poverty and working towards becoming a healthier, more sustainable community, all while respecting the Witset’s traditions and customs. He shared that during the Witset’s search for potential business partnerships, Troy Young, ROGA’s President and Director, was the only individual who participated in face-to-face discussions.

According to Callaghan, Kyah’s mission centers around offering community members opportunities to engage in construction and forestry activities while simultaneously creating an asset base and a source of income for the Witset. These employment opportunities include positions for equipment operators, superintendents, foremen, and labourers, with wages ranging from $30 to $50 per hour.

Callaghan highlighted that Kyah Resources has hired more than 70 individuals from Witset, leading to millions in combined earnings.

Nikal emphasized the importance of open communication and transparency, drawing a parallel to their feast traditions. He explained that during feasts, everything is laid out on the table for everyone to see, and that business deals should foster the same collaborative approach where no side deals are made with external parties.

“We don’t expect our partner to do everything,” said Nikal. “We play our role, and all First Nations have to do that.”

Callaghan and Nikal’s discussion was moderated by Cheyenne Campbell, Governance Lead at ROGA, who also praised the culture of constant and close communication at ROGA.

“I’ve only been working for ROGA for about a month, and I know that I can call on Dennis anytime,” said Campbell. “I’ve seen how closely they work. So it really is beautiful, the relationship that they’ve formed and maintained.”

Nikal underscored that consultation goes beyond mere email exchanges or casual meetings at a local Tim Hortons. He expressed the expectation for individuals seeking to conduct business on Witset territory to engage directly with both the elected council and hereditary chiefs, promoting meaningful dialogue and respectful engagement. He has noted that it’s important for industry to see that when the landscape is changed, those changes affect how history, learnings and teachings are handed down.

“I liked it when Barry and Dennis discussed the importance of working and making decisions together,” said Drax Canada’s Puglas. “Building and nurturing their relationship is key to building the level of trust needed to succeed.”

Puglas said Drax, which owns pellet plants in Burns Lake, Houston and Smithers, understands the importance of building such relationships and values its own partnerships with First Nations. “The province, private companies, and First Nations all benefit from a thriving and sustainable forest sector that recognizes the key role First Nations play in the economic landscape,” said Puglas.

Drax is a renewable energy company that engages in renewable power generation, the sale of renewable electricity to the private sector, and sustainable biomass production. Its operations are global, with assets and facilities across the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

IPSS, now entering its fifth year, was launched by the Resource Works Society in response to growing demand for practical guidance on how First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and their enterprise partners can work together, in common purpose, for shared success.

– Article by IPSS staff, photos by Darryl Dyck