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 10 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 Edmund Bellegarde.

Edmund Bellegarde – Top 10 economic developer

By Judy Bird

Bellegarde and Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and FHQTC chair Edmund Bellegarde at a meeting last winter. Photo courtesy FHQTC.

Edmund Bellegarde knew since he was young that he wanted to be in leadership, and credits his father for providing inspiration.

“My late father, Albert Bellegarde, when he passed away in 1979, he was the Chief of the FSIN. I was a young boy, eight years old, but that was eight years of influence from my father in his leadership role,” said Bellegarde.

As a boy, he was privy to discussions around the dinner table when his father had meetings with chiefs, elders and other influential people. “That was the foundation for my aspirations to play a lead role in advancing our First Nations interests and rights. Those values and principles were instilled at a very early age,” he said.

Life-long learning was also instilled, for both traditional teachings and western academia. He’s earned bachelor and master degrees in business, and a Professional Director, Corporate Governance certification.

Bellegarde has a vision of prosperity and inclusion for First Nations in economic development, and a plan to bring that vision to life. It starts with a foundation of traditional values, having the right business entities in place, the right partnerships, and by having influence at the top levels of business.

Bellegarde has worked with the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) for over 10 years, and is currently the Chair of the Executive Council. He is also the Chair and President of File Hills Qu’Appelle Developments Limited Liability Partnership (FHQ Developments Ltd.), the corporation created by the tribal council to carry out its economic development business activities.

He works with the First Nation chiefs on the political front, and with FHQ Developments Ltd. and its partner companies on the business side. He bridges the interests of both in working towards common goals by taking traditional foundations of teachings, language, values and governance and applying them to public standards in economic development, health, housing, education, water quality, and every other portfolio with which he is involved.

Along with his duties with FHQTC and FHQ Developments, Bellegarde is also the Chair of PAFHQ Contracting, and serves as chair, trustee or director/CEO of 11 other business entities, and is a member of the executive council for FSIN.

“It comes down to adaptability and it comes down to those traditional teachings for me. We’ve survived for thousands of years off of the land because we always adapted to our environment and surroundings, what Creator and Mother Earth gave to us. We were always guided by our grandmothers and grandfather protectors and spirits that watched over us. We were always adapting. That was the key to our survival, to our resilience,” said Bellegarde.

Ec Dev series Congratulations-Ad“In a businesses context, it means we have to adapt some of our traditional ways but don’t lose the principle and the foundation and the values but also operating in a contemporary sense with society and business partners. That was part of treaty – coexistence and working together and sharing. We have a positive obligation on our side to conduct ourselves in that way,” he said.

“As long as we’re working toward achieving those public standards but we’re doing it from our world view and our foundation as indigenous people, it’s going to lead to different outcomes for us,” he added.

He also sees valuable lessons in the past, lessons that help him make wise decisions in the present.

“History is a good teacher of when organizations and business leaders have failed to recognize the need for change and the need to adapt. I continue to rely on some of our traditional teachings in this day and age,” Bellegarde said.

Respect and value in partnerships

Since its inception in 2010, FHQ Developments Ltd has provided a solid First Nation business entity for the tribal council to build partnerships and create meaningful economic development. Currently, it has eight business development entities with partnerships in natural resource, construction and other sectors.

“It’s not just about becoming a joint venture partner because we have a special status or special right for a duty to consult or impact/benefit agreements that keep us as static partners off to the side just collecting a percentage of the profit or the fee. To me that’s not economic participation, that does not provide the sustainable results that we need,” Bellegarde said.

Partnerships require respect of First Nation rights and world views, and equity in leadership at the board level where key decisions are made around policy and procedures.

“We’ve got a lot of people that are looking for opportunities that maybe don’t trust the public systems and the public companies, but if we’re involved in those decisions and guiding that practice, I think that’s where our people will feel a sense of belonging and that’s where you’ll see participation rates and training rates and retention rates in every level of an organization improve when it comes to First Nations people.”

This approach, with Bellegarde’s leadership, has already led to successful ventures.

Harley Camsell, General Manager of Points Athabasca FHQ Contracting, recalled one of the first business developments with PotashCorp, and how Bellegarde helped to secure that contract. Camsell has worked with Bellegarde for about four years, and knows he can count on him if assistance is needed with clients.

“To have Edmund come in and discuss what the tribal council has done in their employment side, in the developments they’ve created, it really helps put forward, and realistically put business cases forward, to clients to state that this is what we need to do,” said Camsell.

Graham Construction is also a partner in PAFHQ. The partnership has existed for about four years, and been involved in contracts with PotashCorp at Rocanville, SaskPower, and the K+S Potash Legacy Mine site near Bethune, SK.

Graham construction works with people employed by PAFHQ to ensure that construction standards are met.

“PAFHQ is definitely one of the most successful partnerships that Graham has. The partnership is set up for long term goals, and goals of longevity, and it has value,” said June Verhelst, Vice President of Operations for Graham industrial in Saskatoon.

“Edmund is well respected in industry. What he brings to the table enhances the way that Graham does business and the way Graham represents itself on the board,” she said.

Looking ahead 

With greater legal recognition of treaty rights, and a new federal government, Bellegarde sees more economic opportunities in resource development in the future, but those opportunities also come with responsibilities, such as how to balance resource extraction with traditional teachings and land stewardship.

“That’s where there’s going to be a lot of space for indigenous people in terms of economic development participating in the economy, whether it’s through jobs or equity ownership. I think we’re going to be able to create a lot of opportunity to help the business world balance some of those environmental aspects.”

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