Self-Reliance and Prosperity

By Anna Guy

The Cree Nation of Wemindji, located 1,300 km north of Montreal at the mouth of the Maquatua River on the east coast of James Bay, is a resilient and proud community. Wemindji is not unlike so many small Canadian communities—visitors will find two schools, a community center, a post office, a mini-mall, police and fire station, and a healthy outfitting and adventure tourism opportunity. Home to over 1,400 Cree people who call themselves Iyiyuuch (which means “the people”), the community continues to keep their language and culture traditions such as hunting, fishing, and trapping alive. But Wemindji’s remoteness is what sets it apart, and a community this self-reliant despite its isolation is an achievement in itself.

The community members of Wemindji created the Tawich Development Corporation (TDC) with this goal of self-reliance and prosperity in mind. The TDC’s mandate is to create businesses within their own community; to create training and employment opportunities where they previously did not exist; and to create a stronger community.

“Tawich Development Corporation (TDC) was founded in 1987 with the intention of generating economic opportunity for the community,” says Danny Tomatuk, VP of TDC. “The founding Chief was the late Walter Hughboy, who was an influential leader whose leadership went beyond the community of Wemindji. His vision for Wemindji was to become self sufficient by investing and he believed that the Cree Nation of Wemindji could lay a foundation to support the community for generations to come through a strong economy.”

The first business created under TDC was Tawich Construction Inc. (TCI), which was formed to help solve the housing issue in the community in 1990. Through “humble” beginnings, TCI solved two crucial issues at the time: housing and employment. TDC trained local workers who could build the houses rather than having to bring workers in. Not only did this approach save time and money, it left a legacy of skilled construction workers who today comprise the region’s largest employer.

TCI’s success snowballed, and today, alongside strategic partners, TCI has augmented its expertise into several divisions including Construction Management, Road Maintenance, Mining, and Civil Works and Infrastructure.

From TCI, the Tawich Development Corporation branched out into other vital services in the community, including a General Contracting company, and companies for Forestry, Mining, Catering, Gas, Project Management, Transportation and Hotel Management. The breadth of the TDC’s expertise is outstanding, and is a testament to the vision and fortitude of the Wemindji people.

Holly Danyluk, CEO of TDC, says the impact of TDC on the community is immeasurable. “We have recently created 15 jobs for high school students with the after-school program we developed through one of our subsidiaries—the Tawich Business Development Corporation—that oversees our local businesses. We also provide financial sponsorships to local youth initiatives, and provide funds for Minor Sports tournaments locally. TDC also provides funds to a Special Needs Foundation called “the” Kate Sharl Foundation within our region of Eeyou Istchee.” It is clear the initiatives created by TDC are far reaching.

Home to incredible wildlife and incredible scenic views, the James Bay also plays a huge role in the traditions of the Cree Nation of Wemindji. Visitors can now experience the James Bay in an entirely new way, through the newly established Wemindji Tourism through the Wiinnipaakw Tours Coop. In its first season in 2019, it will attract true outdoor enthusiasts with unparalleled natural glory.

Running all of these entities required frequent travel to Southern Quebec. When frequent travel was often met with recurrent issues in finding adequate accommodation, the TDC members did what they do best: find a solution. Initially, TDC purchased a condominium to stay in on trips to the Val D’Or region, which then grew into the idea to build a hotel. The lack of accommodations for the children of Wemindji who would travel to Val d’ Or for the annual minor tournaments was also a huge factor. In 2016, TDC started construction with our partnerships on the hotel in 2016 and opened our doors in June 2018.

“The hotel has influenced employment opportunities for the Algonquin community in and around Val d’Or,” says Danyluk. “It also has the only swimming pool in the city, which provides for visitors staying at the hotel as well as for the local families. The hotel allows for more rooms for our annual regional tournaments that bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the city of Val d’Or two times a year in October and April.” Based on the success of this project, TDC has partners with Nanaku Inc, to build an additional nine hotels.

Wemindji is a remote community, but it is not cut off from the world. The community has a relationship with two cities in Inner Mongolia, Ordos City and Bayannuur City, and ambassadors of TDC recently visited these cities to develop economic and cultural relationships for the future, including tourism, trade, and the arts. “The main reason we travelled to China was to learn and explore opportunities in business, to understand the way they do business, and to immerse ourselves in their culture,” says Danyluk. “Our main objective was to provide to them the history of Wemindji and the history of Tawich Development Corporation. We came out of both meetings with two Letter of Intents to establish relationships that foster exchanges and cooperation between CNW/TDC and both cities.”