Northern Saskatchewan is still feeling the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected everything from tourism to mine operations.
But in Ile-a-la-Crosse, a village of around 1,500 people located almost 500 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, the local development corporation has spent the last two years rising to the challenge.
Sakitawak Development Corporation (SDC) is being honoured with a national award, celebrating its hard work and service to the community during and prior to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) announced that Sakitawak Development has won this year’s Indigenous Community Owned Business Award of Excellence.
The award celebrates First Nations, Inuit and Métis entrepreneurs across Canada.
Tyler Morin, SDC’s CEO, said the corporation has made a point of diversifying the types of companies that operate under its umbrella, and has focused on businesses that improve life in the north.
This includes operating the Northern Sunset Motel and Lounge, a construction company and a property management company, among others.
“With the pandemic, because we had so many active investments, we were able to put our people to work,” Morin said.
One of SDC’s major successes over the last few years has been the Ile a la Crosse Fish Company, a fish processing and packing plant in the village.
“We directly employ anywhere from 20 to 30 people (at the fish company),” Morin said. “And then in our area, there are about 100 licensed fishermen that are dependent on us, and they employ anywhere from two to three workers each. So it’s quite a big operation.”
SDC also organizes a community market garden in the village, so locals can enjoy more fresh produce during the summer months.
“Little initiatives like that go a long way for a community,” Morin said.
SDC also played “an active role” in Ile-a-la-Crosse’s pandemic response, serving on the local emergency operational committee at the height of the crisis, he noted.
Still, he was surprised when the Clarence Campeau Development Fund put SDC forward for the award — and even more surprised to win, he said.
“I didn’t think we had a chance — but I guess I was wrong, because we ended up winning it. It was a little bit of validation.”
Clarence Campeau COO Steve Danners said he's delighted to celebrate SDC’s “complete success story” on the national stage.
“As far as we’re concerned, there’s not a more deserving organization,” Danners said. “I would describe Sakitawak Development Corporation as the Cadillac of Métis organizations.”
Danners said SDC’s community leadership work, the millions of dollars of business it does in northwestern Saskatchewan and the jobs it continues to create in the community make it an inspiration and a role model.
Morin said he looks forward to flying to Ottawa in May to accept the award, but he is still focused on business.
“Whether we won the award or not, we would still be headed in the direction we’re heading in,” he said. “And that is to keep being an active participant in our local economy for our region, and be there for community residents in the Ile-a-la-Crosse area.”
Julia Peterson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix