STONEY NAKODA – A brand new gas station and pit stop along the Trans-Canada Highway is a significant "step forward" for economic development on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
The grand opening of the 6,000 square foot Bearspaw Kananaskis Travel centre Thursday (May 23) was marked by the three Chiefs from Stoney Nakoda Nation – Bearspaw Chief Darcy Dixon, Chiniki Chief Aaron Young and a Wesley Chief in attendance to celebrate the move towards self-sustainability and creating jobs for the Nation.
"I'm proud of what's happening here today,” Dixon said during the festivities. “I'm proud of our Nation members that showed up and the local leaders [from neighoubouring communities] and it's just a good day for our tribe.
"I think this gives us an opportunity to work towards our future plans ... and it gives us that capacity to do future planning, especially in this area."
The $5.5 million project, which includes an Esso gas station, a Tim Hortons, a gift shop and a private lounge area for trucks with change room and showers, has been five years in the making. The original plan involved all three bands on the Nation and a developer, but it "fell through" leaving the opportunity for the Bearspaw band to explore the opportunity on its own.
The official paperwork for the Bearspaw Kananaskis Travel Centre was signed in 2017, with additional partner Tim Hortons signing on last May.
Bearspaw CEO Rob Shotclose said the band has taken a "step forward" with the travel centre opening and the Nation relied on oil and gas royalties for too long.
"We used to have tens of millions of dollars in royalties coming in where we just collected the money with no involvement ... economic development needs to be a [priority]," Shotclose said during his speech.
The opening of the travel centre is just one of the efforts the Bearspaw band has made towards self-sufficiency in the last decade, as the band also owns the Centex gas station, convenience store and Subway in the Morley town site, reportedly generating $12 million in the first five years.
Of the $5.5 million cost to build the travel centre, the Federal government kicked in $700,000 from the Community Opportunities Readiness Program and the Provincial government provided a $625,000 grant, with the rest of the money coming from band revenue.
"I think in time our accomplishments speak for themselves ... [and] the goal is to keep reinvesting, create self-sustainability and employ the Nation's people," said Shotclose, noting the new travel centre which had a soft opening in January.
Shotclose said the travel centre employs members of all three bands and 90 per cent of staff are from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation.
"We have to learn how to be entrepreneurs ... to be a part of Alberta, to be a part of Canada. We have to start thinking economically and get the young people in that mind set too," Krista Hunter, Wesley councillor member said during the ceremony.
The Stoney Nakoda band has 238 acres of designated lands for commercial development, according to a press release from Indigenous Services Canada, with the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino already located less than 300 metres away on the same lands.
Now what's next for the Nation?
Shotclose said to stay tuned because they are waiting to see "what comes next."