With an historical relationship that extends over centuries to the area of land that now comprises the Ermineskin Reserve, the Ermineskin Cree Nation (Reserve #138) is one member of the Four Nations of Maskwacis, Alberta, located about fifty miles south of Edmonton. Established in 1885 and located over approximately 25,000 acres, this area is traditionally known as the Bear Hills or Maskwacheesihk.
The economic arm of the Ermineskin Cree Nation is the Neyaskweyahk Group of Companies (NGCI), created to diversify the Nation’s economy with strategies that allow the community to maintain its cultural identity, create new business opportunities and resources for the benefit of the Nation.
Since NGCI’s inception in 2013, the Group, which is ISO9001:2015 certified, has contributed to the steadily growing businesses as it continues to demonstrate excellence in the area of business development and operations improvement, notably through the recent acquisition of Bear Paw Trading Post, the establishment of the 1MW with an expansion to 2MW, Pemiciso Café & Bistro, Pihtwahew Gift Shop, and the installation of the Kids Fun Zone in the Maskwacis Mall.
In April, 2020, NGCI elected its new President & CEO, Maureen Ward-Caisse, a period she admits was a “very interesting time of transition”. Business Elite Canada spoke with President and CEO, Ward-Caisse, Board of Director Conrad Young, and Ermineskin Cree Nation Councillor, Tyler Makinaw, about the future of NGCI, its renewed vision statement and focus on opportunities in green energy.
“The NGCI and the Board of Directors has a lot of new people at the table,” says Makinaw, “There are new ideas and new directions—so we wanted to identify what are the needs of the Ermineskin Cree Nation as it pertains to economic development and business development, and ensure that our directions reflect all of the new voices at the table—at the NGCI board level and at the Chief & Council level.”
The NGCI’s overarching goal is supporting human capacity to the fullest. “Human capacity is one of our core values,” says Ward-Caisse. “Our new mission statement reflects this: To create and grow viable, sustainable, and profitable businesses with investments that honors human capacity. Our Vision is to turn NGCI into a globally-recognized corporation honoring seven generations governed by our Cree culture. “
NGCI’s acronym SPIRIT sums it up well: Service, Productivity, Innovation, Respect, Integrity, Teamwork.
Young adds that honouring human capacity starts at all levels from front line staff all the way to the CEO. “We’ve really been on this core concept of empowering our women within the nation through education and employment,” says Young. “And I’m proud to say that we have two ladies doing their executive MBA right now at Simon Fraser University.”
The Group’s business objectives are channelled through Solar Energy, something that aligns with the Ermineskin Cree Nation’s cultural values and business objectives. “There is a lot of support and opportunities (with government and industry) for clean energy because we are stewards of the land,” says Makinaw.
“Solar energy is going to lead us into a future of sustainability,” says Ward-Caisse. “That is what we want to capture—and we have a lot of a land base that we can use in order to build our own renewable solar energy farm.”
Currently, NGCI oversees a 64 KW Solar energy site which powers up one of the community’s main community buildings that houses a Canada Post and a CIBC. In Addition, there is a 1 MW solar project called the Neyaskweyahk Sundancer. Powered up March of 2020, it was constructed by Calgary-based Sky Fire Energy, and generates energy that is sold to Alberta’s grid. The project was recently nominated for the PAMZ Blue Skies Award for Innovation and application of technology to reduce energy use and air pollution. NGCI is currently looking to start the construction process to expand the project to 2MW capacity in the same location.
Next on the horizon is an 80MW project for which NGCI has invited DNV GL Energy to present a multi-scope proposal.
“This proposal was accepted and is currently 80 per cent complete,” says Ward-Caisse. “DNVGL has been performing the environmental and preliminary design of the 80MW solar site required for AUC application and approval.”
The selected location of the site will be located on 372 acres of land, perhaps this will increase, based on environmental assessments with an overall capital cost estimated at $129 million. “We are working on partnerships to assist us in achieving this project,” continues Ward-Caisse. “Although we are in the preliminary stages of the 80MW project, we anticipate further progress throughout the current year.”
“We see so much going on in the world with a renewable energy, we want to be a part of it,” says Young, citing NGCI’s land base, ISO9001-certification, experience and expertise.
“Renewables provide a kind of a synergistic cultural alignment, as it allows for community buy-in for projects such as this. Renewable energy sector is trending in the local and global commerce. It’s helping to create sustainability, by promoting clean energy—we want to be apart of it, one step at a time”