In a show of what might be coming in terms of emerging corporation-First Nation alliances, NorthwesTel and a consortium of 13 Yukon First Nation development corporations have announced an agreement that positions First Nations as new partners of NorthwesTel.
The deal was years in the making.
“It shows that by proper negotiation, proper discussions, and by all the partners pulling together, and cooperating, you can do big things,” said Fred Koe, Da Daghay Development Corporation chair and designated spokesperson for the First Nation partners.
“I see this as a way to do business in the future.”
The announcement was made at the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference on May 5. Thirteen First Nation development corporations formed a new entity called Yukon First Nations Telco LP. They will be purchasing the in-community assets of NorthwesTel’s “Every Community Project.” That project is funded in part by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission broadband project and is well underway. It will bring high-speed unlimited internet to every Yukon community in the next three years.
NorthwesTel will lease the fibre network back from First Nation Telco for 20 years, and continue to operate and maintain the network at its own cost for that period. The arrangement guarantees First Nations a steady rate of return and other indirect benefits. Both parties are excited about the new model of First Nations participation in the business world.
The purchase and lease-back arrangement will not affect customer service, and will increase the pace of new infrastructure improvements. It only pertains to the in-community fibre assets of NorthwesTel, and includes all the communities yet to come online through the “Every Community Project” such as Marsh Lake and Haines Junction. The deal does not include the fibre optic cable that runs between Yukon communities.
Dawson City, Teslin, Watson Lake and Fort Liard have already seen the launch of the faster services, now 16 times greater than previously available. The remaining communities, except Keno, will be coming online in 2022 and into 2023.
NorthwesTel spokesperson Andrew Anderson said that the First Nations’ $10-million dollar investment will allow NorthwesTel to “accelerate investments in the northern network upfront and more importantly, it strengthens the connections we have with the communities that we exist to serve.”
Thirteen out of the Yukon’s 14 First Nations development corporations are involved.
“At this stage Teslin is not participating, but we are working with them,” Koe explained.
Anderson said that NorthwesTel has every intention of pursuing similar agreements with other First Nations in the Northwest Territories, northern British Columbia and northern Alberta.
“We don’t want to just stop here. We really want to see how we can build on this model,” Anderson said.
This is the type of partnership envisioned in the Yukon Land Claims Agreements.
“Way back, our forefathers saw the day that First Nations would be business owners,” Koe said. “This is a small step towards that. [It will] guarantee direct economic benefits to participating Yukon First Nation communities for decades.”
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News