Treaty 4 News is excited to present the Top 10 Most Influential Economic Developers feature that profiles business leaders, job creators and entrepreneurs who have made a valuable contribution to improving the lives of Indigenous people through business and have helped keep Saskatchewan’s economy vibrant and strong. 

In the past few years, more and more Indigenous people have forged business careers working at the First Nation community level, building Tribal Council economic development projects, climbing the corporate ladder at government Crown Corporations and in the last few years guiding the private sector as they engage with First Nations.

Now a new generation of entrepreneurs are building successful brands like Neechie Gear, Shop Indigenous, SheNative as they develop products for an ever growing Indigenous market.

Over the next ten weeks Treaty 4 News will release one profile a week of an economic developer we believe is influential in building a better future for Indigenous people through business.

This week we introduce Terry Bird of K+S Potash Canada

 

Terry Bird – Top 10 economic developer

By Judy Bird

Terry Bird award

Milton Tootoosis, chair, SFNEDN; Terry Bird, and Rob Woods, Senior Account Manager, Business Development Corp. Photo credit: Michael Dubois. Used courtesy K+S Potash Canada.

For the past four years, Terry Bird (no relation to this story’s writer) has been a liaison between First Nation and Metis communities and K+S Potash’s Legacy Mine site, helping them to find ways to work together for mutual benefit and to work through concerns and differences.

On April 6th, Bird was recognized for his work at the Saskatchewan First Nations Economic Development Network (SFNEDN) conference, and was given an award for Economic Developer of the Year, Individual.

“It was an absolute surprise,” said Bird, who is from George Gordon First Nation. He is the lead advisor for First Nation and Metis initiatives with K+S Potash, Legacy Mine site. “I was very humbled to be nominated first of all, and second to win the award.”

“I’m very proud of him for being awarded the Economic Development Officer of the Year because there are a lot of very good and capable people who work in that area on behalf of the First Nations and First Nations business organizations, and so to be selected among that group to be recognized is quite an accomplishment,” said Eric Cline, VP of Lands and Sustainable Development with K+S. “It makes me proud for Terry because he worked many years in the area, and it makes me proud for our company too that we have someone of Terry’s calibre doing the good work that we’ve done here, thanks largely to his leadership and efforts,” added Cline.

For Milton Tootoosis, chair of SFNEDN, handing out the award to Bird was very gratifying.

“I’m always uplifted and motivated by people like Terry. It’s a great feeling to recognize people like him, and we don’t do enough of it. We hope that it will inspire other economic development managers and practitioners like Terry to work diligently with their corporations to have these kind of outcomes,” said Tootoosis.

Those outcomes are that in just three years, 13 First Nation-owned and one Metis-owned companies work with K+S Legacy Mine site. First Nations partnerships include Pasqua, Piapot, Kawacatoose, Day Star Muskowekwan, George Gordon, FHQ Tribal Council and their company Points Athabasca. The value in contracts is about $300 million. There are also just under 350 First Nation and Metis employees on site.

Success in Bird’s job requires skill and diplomacy in bringing together two different worlds. He brings a mix of education and life experience to his role. Bird has a Business Administration diploma from SIAST and is certified with the Purchasing Managers Association of Canada. “I’ve grown up with understanding the dynamics of working with First Nations communities, chief and council and understand how they are running and needing solutions for their communities,” he said.

“It’s about finding a balance between the First Nation communities interests and concerns, and how those things can be introduced to the company so the company can respond in a positive manner and find workable solutions for their interests and what we’re trying to do in establishing the organization too,” said Bird.

Bird said that K+S also takes into account the inherent rights of the First Peoples in the area of the Legacy Mine. “Although we are on private land, we understand that there is a concern from First Nation and Metis people who have inherent rights, that we need to figure out how to respect their concerns and find solutions.”

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“We’re in Treaty 4 territory. We want to involve everybody,” Bird said.

One might think that it requires a team of people to take on this tremendous task and complicated issues, and to make so much progress in such little time, but that’s not the case here.

“He is a staff of one. He reports to me,” said Cline.  “He’s always got his feet planted firmly on the ground, quite often not in the office behind a desk. He is often out talking to suppliers, aboriginal people about involvement in our company. We rely on cooperation from our Procurement department that does contracts and our Human Resources department that actually does hiring. In terms of someone specifically for that area, we have a one-man team and that’s Terry,” said Cline.

The German-owned K+S has done more than sign agreements; they’ve put policies in place to foster a relationship and to put into action what they say they will do.

“Coming to the organization, I had a lot of support from the executive and from Germany to establish two policies:  First Nation and Metis procurement policies, and a human resource policy, which really was to add a certain amount of resources to recruit and retain First Nation and Metis suppliers, businesses and affiliates, whether it be joint ventures or partnerships, and get them involved with our procurement process,” he said.

“Those two polices are our driving factors and they have been established the last three years or so and given those policies, it’s allowed me to do some interesting things in regard to really putting a focus on supplier development. As we move into operations, we’ll start to focus a lot more on human resources as well,” Bird added.

Though Bird remains humble about his accomplishments, the effect of his work on the community is highlighted by Tootoosis. “In a very short time, they were able to commit, not only talk, but walking the talk. That is huge. That’s feeding that many more families, adding to their livelihood,” said Tootoosis.

“It’s just the beginning,” said Bird. “I look forward to building on it. We plan on being around here for 100 years and it’s nice to see in our first three years that we have a lot of tremendous success with regards to First Nation and Metis involvement. As an employee of K+S, i’m humbled to be working for an org that is very supportive of our policies and I look to grow up on it.”

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