Thursday, September 18, 2014
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First Nation businesses tap into potash opportunities

By Kim Smith

REGINA – The plan was to create opportunities for First Nations in employment, business and community development – but according to BHP Billiton Potash, its success is less about recruitment and more about building relationships.

Last year, the company signed an agreement with three Saskatchewan First Nations – Kawacatoose, Day Star and Muskowekwan – to create employment opportunities.

“You have to be part of the community needs and work with them in addressing those needs,” said BHP Billiton Potash’s Alex Archila following a luncheon organized by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

“If you look at a business opportunity to just make money, we don’t believe that will be sustainable.”

The Jansen potash project is still at an early stage, but BHP is investing $2.6 billion to develop the project in the Treaty 4 Territory.

“When we engage with a contractor, the clause in their contract between us and them says you need to work with aboriginal groups is going to be there now,” said Archila.

“And it’s going to be there in the future.”

One local business leader applauds BHP’s commitment to giving First Nation entrepreneurs access to this project.

“The secret to success is a strong, respectful relationship with the First Nations people,” said Edmund Bellegarde, president of FHQ Developments.

“There have been many processes where the honour of the crown has been criticized by the supreme courts on not engaging First Nations.”

So far, BHP says about 150 aboriginal employees and contractors are involved with the Jansen potash project.

Currently, the mine project employs about 500 people – but that number is expected to grow to about 2,500 once fully operational.

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