First Nation development corporations eye growth opportunities

As much of Western Canada is suffering from low oil prices, a number of companies are being sold for cheaper than usual.

As much of Western Canada is suffering from low oil prices, a number of companies are being sold for cheaper than usual.

That’s the best time to invest and buy, said Paul Gruner, general manager of Dakwakada Capital Investment, at a panel discussion Thursday.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting featured a first: three CEOs of Yukon First Nation development corporations sharing their thoughts on their work.

Development corporations are fundamentally different from other private companies as their sole shareholders are First Nation governments, Gruner said.

Air North wouldn’t be where it is right now if it wasn’t for the influx of First Nation capital, he said.

Dakwakada is the for-profit arm of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

Two weeks ago it sold its asphalt plant that was part of Castle Rock Enterprises.

“It was an opportunity for liquidity,” Gruner said.

Few people know that the company has a similar facility in Anchorage, Alaska, that it will be shutting down and moving to Whitehorse.

For Dakwakada, it’s time to look at diversifying its portfolio.

Currently the corporation is heavily invested in the construction industry, Gruner said.

He looks to Alaska, where last year the nine largest indigenous development corporations made over $10 billion in revenue.

“They’re a major employer in Alaska, a major GDP driver,” he said. “When I look at Alaska I see a major opportunity on how to mature and grow.”

First Nation development corporations have social responsibility for their citizens, said Nelson Lepine, manager of the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation.

“There is serious investment in the people, the citizens,” Lepine said. “We’re trying to get citizens trained, employed, with the understanding the lights have to stay on.”

That, he said, is a long-term investment.

“The idea is that if you start building the foundations of the people, the opportunities will continually come.”

Gruner said the corporations “could do better.”

“That is an area we need to put more of an emphasis on,” he said.

His development corporation has a seat on its board for an elder and a youth. It also offers summer student programs.

In Carcross the First Nation launched a tiny house construction program aimed at teaching people work skills.

From a population of 325, the First Nation received 42 applications, way more than expected, Lepine said.

Of the 15 who graduated, 11 are working on building the First Nation’s learning centre.

“Every single one of them were on social assistance before,” he said.

Each First Nation development corporation also has to deal with issues specific to its traditional territory.

The Selkirk First Nation, for example, heavily invested in providing services for the Minto Mine, located on its traditional territory, said Ernie Bourassa, CEO of the Selkirk development corporation.

The development corporation also operates the Pelly Crossing gas station and store, but is much smaller than Dakwakada, Bourassa said.

“We’re in our infancy,” he said. “The development corporation has adopted a passive investment approach since its inception due to lack of capacity.”

Because development corporations work with and for First Nation governments, that allows them to be better integrated into projects in the community, Lepine said.

For example, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation changed its building code, he said. Now all residential homes built are required to have solar panels installed.

The First Nation then launched a training program to train its citizens to install renewable energy infrastructure, partnering with Yukon College.

“The idea is you get the citizens interested,” said Lepine.

“These individuals can then go [start] their own business.”

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

Local poet Joanna Lilley is photographed at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 20, where she will be hosting a poetry workshop on Jan. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Poetry for the ages

Workshop set for the Yukon Beringia Centre

President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris in the State Dinning Room of the White House on Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C. The administration announced plans Jan. 20 for a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the Trump administration issued leases in a part of the refuge considered sacred by the Gwich’in. (Alex Brandon/AP)
U.S. President Joe Biden halts oil and gas lease sales in ANWR

“Its great to have an ally in the White House”


Wyatt’s World for Jan. 22, 2021

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Most Read