Conne River gets bigger with deal for roadside motel in central Newfoundland

·3 min read
The Miawpukek First Nation has taken over ownership of the Exploits River Motel along the Trans-Canada Highway. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
The Miawpukek First Nation has taken over ownership of the Exploits River Motel along the Trans-Canada Highway. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
The Miawpukek First Nation has taken over ownership of the Exploits River Motel along the Trans-Canada Highway.
The Miawpukek First Nation has taken over ownership of the Exploits River Motel along the Trans-Canada Highway.(Garrett Barry/CBC)

The latest deal signed by leaders of the Miawpukek First Nation represents a sizeable expansion — on both business and geographical fronts.

The First Nation government has taken over the Exploits River Motel, located at the intersection of the Bay d'Espoir Highway and the Trans-Canada Highway in central Newfoundland.

The deal was signed in January, and some minor renovation and repair work is underway in hopes of opening the motel this summer.

Though the business is about 150 kilometres from Miawpukek's band office in Conne River, Chief Mi'sel Joe said it's a natural fit.

"We're a long ways down here off the main drag, and we're trying to do economic development any way we can," he said in January. "That's a stopover."

"The sky's the limit, what we can do with it."

The money for the acquisition comes from the 2019 sale of the Conne River Outfitting business, Joe said.

Mi'sel Joe, the longtime chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, sits for an interview in the band office's great hall.
Mi'sel Joe, the longtime chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, sits for an interview in the band office's great hall.(Garrett Barry/CBC)

The motel is the last stop before a roughly two-hour uninterrupted drive from the Trans-Canada Highway to Bay d'Espoir.

While tourism will be part of the strategy, Joe says he hopes the First Nation can establish other businesses on the plot of land as well.

With the deed for the motel and adjacent land in hand, Joe says Miawpukek will apply to the federal government to have the land incorporated as reserve land. A new process was implemented in 2019 that, according to Indigenous Services Canada, should make that process easier.

It would allow the businesses that open on the land to take advantage of the tax benefits offered to First Nations; it could also allow Miawpukek to move their popular vehicle and product delivery program north, closer to bigger population centres.

'I always like to think of myself thinking outside the box a little bit. - Saqamaw Mi'sel Joe

That program has brought lots of traffic and visitors into Conne River in recent years, according to Joe. Vehicles and other products that are delivered as part of that program to status card holders are taxed at a lower rate, and Miawpukek charges a fee that brings them some revenue too.

"We've had all kinds through here," he said. "Full houses sometimes on tractor trailers come through here. We've had helicopters land here, we've had float planes land here because of the tax exemption."

Joe says a move north could encourage even more people to take advantage of the program.

"When you can set up a business, and allow those people to spend their money in your community, you are moving in the right direction," he said, pointing to examples set by the Membertou First Nation, which borders Sydney, N.S., and the Millbrook First Nation, which has set up businesses along Nova Scotia's Highway 102.

The move to purchase the Exploits River Motel comes on the heels of an even bigger acquisition: Miawpukek has now closed a deal to become a part owner in Clearwater Seafoods.

<cite>(Robert Short/CBC)</cite>
(Robert Short/CBC)

The First Nation was part of the billion-dollar deal that also included six Mi'kmaw communities in Nova Scotia.

The deal, which was financed through a loan by the First Nations Finance Authority, gives the Mi'kmaw coalition ownership of the company's fishing quotas.

Joe said all the First Nation's business moves have been about creating revenue for the government, and creating job opportunities for Mi'kmaq.

"I always like to think of myself thinking outside the box a little bit," Joe said.

"We can stay down here and rely on government funding forever. But we have to create businesses to allow our people to have own source of revenue. Once we got our own source revenue to a point that we can take care of our people, then we've accomplished what we set out to do."

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