Governance centre a step on the road

As Kahkewistahaw moves toward self-sufficiency and sovereignty:

May 10, 2022, 4:00 pm
Kevin Weedmark

Chief Evan Taypotat speaks at the grand opening of the Chief Joseph Crowe Governance Centre on Kahkewistahaw First Nation Wednesday.

Kahkewistahaw First Nation marked the opening of its $20 million Governance Centre Wednesday. The centre will be paid for from own-source revenues. Kevin Weedmark and Sierra DíSouza Butts spoke with Chief Evan Taypotat after the opening. The full interview follows.

How does the new Governance Centre play into your long-term goals for Kahkewistahaw First Nation?
Sovereignty is the goal for any First Nation. When youíre a sovereign, you donít depend on outside help.

Sovereignty is what we want to achieve. We want to be self-sufficient. We donít want to depend on anybody.

Right now, we depend on the government and we donít like that because at one time our people many, many hundreds of years ago, we were dependent on no one but ourselves and thatís the goal.

Obviously the world has changed, but we want to be sovereign, and thatís why we opened up businesses in Yorkton, Melville, and Saskatoon, because we donít want to hold our hand out to the government anymore. We want to just say, ďHey, we are Kahkewistahaw, we are sovereign, and we have our own destiny in our own hands.Ē

How is this center funded?
Itís funded by a loan for 25 years through the First Nations Finance Authority.

To be a part of the First Nations Finance Authority, you have to have strict spending guidelines, and audits that are really strict and tight.

There are only 50 First Nations out of approximately 700 First Nations Canada that are part of this group. Itís usually all the economically prosperous, First Nations that are a part of this group. You have to apply and you have to jump through a lot of hoops. We started this process about three years ago and thatís how we got the funding for this building. So itís funded through a loan and we get to borrow below prime rate because we have such strict spending guidelines.

Weíre just looking at other things right now. Itís like anything else in life, you know, you want to buy a houseboat, you want to buy a quad and the more you add on, the more you have to be making, right.

So we want to add on a hockey rink next and itís already being planned. Weíre developing a hotel and convention centre on the property we own in Saskatoon right now, with hockey rinks up there, McDonalds, Costco, IKEA. But there always has to be a method to the madness. You canít just shoot from the hip and hope that weíre going to pay that loan somehow, itís not how life works.

For us, thereís always something next. How do we pay for the loan to build that? And how do we pay for the loan to build that? Then itís just a continuous cycle of money coming into Kahkewistahaw so that we can fund ourselves to be sovereign.

Whatís the long-term goal for Kahkewistahaw First Nation?
The long-term goal is to achieve sovereignty through economic development. Thatís the goal. Thatís it in a sentence.

If you drive around our reserve, youíll see that thereís nice houses, but you know, you drive through Esterhazy, thereís a lot nicer houses in Esterhazy. You drive through Moosomin, thereís a lot nicer houses in Moosomin. Why is that? Because of the well-paying jobs that are thereóthe opportunity that is there.

Thereís not as much of that out here, so itís our job as leaders to make sure that that happens.

I want to be like Moosomin. I want to be like Esterhazy, in the sense that I want my daughter to have dance lessons out here. I want her to be able to take skiing lessons, I want to be able to put her in hockey, I want to be able to go on the year-end trip to California with the Grade 11s. Thatís what we want out here.

Just because our skin color and our religious beliefs are different than Kevin from Moosomin, doesnít mean our wants are any different.

We still want to see our kids graduate high school. We want to dress up nice on that day and present them with a nice gift. We want them to be able to go to university. I want my daughter to get married and I want to dress up nice.

Just because we live in different places and because Iím a First Nations person on a First Nation reserve, doesnít mean that my wants are any different than yours.

So how far are you along that path?
I would say itíll be 10 more years until we are sovereign. A lot of it hinges on the Saskatoon property that weíre developing right now. If we can generate money there, like some of the economically successful first nations, the possibilities are endless. Thereís one First Nation in Canada that generates $100 million a year in capital. If you can imagine generating that much money to pump into your community, not only that much money, the jobs and the opportunity that come with jobs.

The mines that are all around this area, we donít have many jobs in those mines. Why? Well, letís make it so, because we want those dance lessons and ski lessons, those hockey teams. But it just takes a little more extra effort out here in the middle of nowhere.

A place like Osoyoos, where they do have the NKíMIP Cellars right there, theyíve got tourism right there . . .
They are geographically gifted.

Thatís what I was wondering. Some of your projects are off in the city. Is there potential to develop some tourism and opportunities like that right here?
One hundred percent. Yes, cultural tourism is a big thing thatís happening in Canada right now.

And we have so many Knowledge Keepers, we have so much land, we have beautiful land overlooking the QuíAppelle Valley. We can do those types of things.

Itís just a matter of dollars to do those things. You need to build your own projectsóyou need effort, you need dollars, you need that opportunity. And we still donít have the full opportunity right now. We donít have the full dollars. But itís our job as Chief and Council and leadership to make sure that those opportunities come to our people.

You have your school down the road and now this centre is opening, and youíre planning for your next project. How does it feel to be in the midst of all this development happening for the community?
Our school was built in 2004. I was actually a young teacher back then. I was a first year teacher when that happened. But the goal for me, it was always to come home and help our First Nation, in any capacity, whether it was a teacher, principal, Chief.
I donít know where Iím going to be in 10 years. I might be in this position, I might not be. But what is for sure is Iíll be helping our First Nation achieve sovereignty. It really is cool, to be the Chief of Kahkewistahaw.

As a kid, I rode around here on a bike a lot. And back then, 35 years ago, I never would have envisioned that Iíd be in this job, in this position, helping our First Nation do all these really cool things on the road to achieving sovereignty.

Itís really nice. Itís a nice feeling and it warms my heart to know that Iím a part of it. But at the end of the day, itís not about me, or what warms me, itís about achieving the best for Kahkewistahaw.

All of those kids who are at school right now, one day, one of them will be Chief or Counselors, or employees here. Itís our job to set the table for them today, so that tomorrow when itís their turn, they have opportunity.

What does this grand opening mean to you?
Just listen to the sounds around us. You hear people laughing, you hear people socializing.

Iím sure Amazon or Google donít even have an office that is this nice or SaskPower and SaskEnergy. My people have offices that are really nice now.

We donít have to go to workówe get to go to work. And thatís a beautiful thing that people get to say. The morale is really high here right now.

Being an infantry officer who served in Afghanistan, I know if the morale isnít high for your troops, they are not going to fight for you. If the morale is high, theyíre gonna fight for you. And these troops here will fight for Kahkewistahaw.

Kahkewistahaw has developed a lot in the last 20-30 years. Where do you see this community 20 or 30 years in the future?
I see us being the richest First Nation in Saskatchewan and possibly in Canada. The Saskatoon Centre is going to be the centre of Indigenous Saskatchewan in 10 years, and that means dollars, that means opportunity, not only for Kahkewistahaw people, but for other First Nations, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people.

Obviously, I get paid to fight for Indigenous people, but my arm is always extended to our non Indigenous brothers and sisters because theyíre Canadians as well. They have wants, they have needs, and they want opportunity as well.

So first and foremost, I look out for my people. But along the way, we hold our hand out saying ďletís walk this road together.Ē If you have a good heart, and you want to make some cash, letís rock and roll.

How do you decide on priorities when thereís so much to build? Thereís economic development projects, thereís the community improvement projects, thereís your housing projects. As we drove in, we saw some houses under construction. How do you prioritize how they get builtóin what order?
Itís all based on dollars. I wish I was building my rink right now but we arenít.

We are adding houses right now and the 15 families that are moving to those houses, theyíre going to ask our leadership in a year, ďokay, where do we work out now?Ē

The hockey rink weíre planning has a gym in it, we designed a gym, we designed a walking/running track in our hockey rink. So itís all about dollars. If we had more dollars itíd be being built right now, but weíd have to strategize, prioritize. So itís all coming. Thereís a method to the madness. We sit back and we strategize. We have meetings with our program managers and our Council. ďOkay, what kind of dollars do we have, what do we have coming in?Ē

I really want everything right now. I want to get going on all these projects. Iím 43 years old and I probably have another 40 years left on this earth. I want to do the most in my time while Iím here, but at the same time, like I said, you have to set the table for tomorrow. You canít just spend everything today. If we do that, if we donít plan for tomorrow, then weíre going to handcuff our leadership in the future.

For now, weíre here and weíre working hard. The Council supports one another. We have program managers that believe in it. For the most part, the staff follow our guidance along the way, but not every day is a good day. There are some rainy days on Kahkewistahaw. Things happen out here. But for the most part everyone buys in and the good days outweigh the bad by a lot. And weíll take those right now.

Our next build will be done in Yorkton, right now, the YTCFS building (Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services.)
Itís a $10 million build. We signed a deal with them to be our tenants for 25 years. And then Saskatoon, youíll see more about that in the next little while.

In Yorkton they own the building and theyíre leasing the land from us on a 25-year lease.

Itís a beautiful building. Thereís a sweat lodge right on top of the building. Itís a cultural centre, itís meeting spaces. One of the things people say around Yorkton is thereís no meeting space.

So we worked together with YTCFS and now we have this beautiful building coming up where thereís a lot of meeting space that people can rent. They can maybe make a bit of income there, from renting the meeting space, to offset their expenses, so thatís excellent. Then the Hotel Convention Centre in Saskatoon.

At Birds Point the long-term plan is a golf course, hotel, wedding centre, gas station, RV campground. We have a lot of land right along the lake and weíre doing a feasibility study right now just to see what we need down there.