A thriving First Nations government of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation, located near the city of Williams Lake, the Williams Lake First Nation have been stewards of their land for over 6500 years. Today, the WLFN community includes a growing population of over 800 registered members who live on reserve in the community known as “Sugar Cane”, in nearby Williams Lake, BC, and across the globe. One of 17 Secwepemc nations forming Secwepemculecw, the greater WLFN stewardship land area extends from Shuswap Lake in the south, to Quesnel Lake in the north, and from Columbia-Kootenay Range in the east, to the Alexis Creek area in the west. Since time immemorial, the band’s Kukpi7s (Chiefs) led a strong people, and they do so today.

The WLFN is a model of successfully leveraging a diverse range of business opportunities for the advancement of the Nation’s culture and way of life. With wholly-owned business interests ranging from archeology to cannabis cultivation and retail, WLFN’s economic development opportunities are often generated through natural resource development which includes forestry, range, mining, water, wildlife, fisheries, etc.

“WLFN is progressive community that is very much motivated by a desire to advance the condition of its membership while recognizing and appreciating its cultural heritage and roots,” Kirk Dressler, Director of Legal and Corporate Services at WLFN tells Business Elite Canada. “The WLFN is culturally-centred and future-focused. The cultural foundation for the community is the basis for everything that we do. We’re very much focused on creating a brighter future for the community members and that is the vision that informs the Council.”

Positive Economic Environment

The WLFN is actively working to maintain a positive economic environment and to encourage investment in WLFN lands and the regional generally. WLFN works on economic development initiatives with other governments (local, provincial and federal) and various private enterprise partners.

“WLFN’s approach to economic development is different from many other governments,” says Dressler. “There are two elements to economic development at WLFN. There’s really creating an environment for business. We do that in a variety of ways, and ensuring that we have a strong a robust governance infrastructure that is responsive to business and able to move at the speed of business is a major factor.”

The development and implementation of WLFN governance tools has created a stronger and more effective business climate. “We’ve developed WLFN lands on the strength of our ability to manage to build a governance framework,” says Dressler.

“In addition to creating governance,” adds Dressler “WLFN is also very involved in the development and operation of businesses. That’s the second prong of our economic development strategy. WLFN is very much a player in the business community in the Cariboo-Chilcotin and beyond.”

Coyote Rock Estates

Actively involved in real estate development and creating opportunity in that way, WLFN has a new residential subdivision and a mixed-use commercial subdivision known as Coyote Rock Estates. “We’re creating opportunity and generating revenue through land leases and construction work,” says Dressler. “We’re also creating long-term job opportunities and building a sustainable tax base.”

Moments away from biking and hiking trails and the Coyote Rock Golf Course, and minutes away from downtown Williams Lake, Coyote Rock Estates provides homeowners with the perfect combination of convenience and access to nature. Phase 1 of this beautiful 28 lot development is now being sold, says Dressler.

Borland Creek Logging Ltd.

WLFN’s longstanding forestry company, Borland Creek Logging Ltd. (BCL), is another of the key WLFN business entities. Established in 1996, BCL is equipped as a full-phase forestry operation and harvests as a roadside and conventional operation. BCL is capable of working on a “stump to dump” basis as required. The company started out as a small logging contractor and has grown significantly in size; capable of harvesting over 125,000 cubic meters per year. In addition to the main BCL equipment compound in the community of Sugar Cane, BCL also has an office presence at the Williams Lake First Nation corporate office in downtown Williams Lake.

“BCL is a sizable employer in the community, and it’s built major partnerships with other players working the forest industry,” says Dressler. “But we built beyond that, recognizing that there’s a finite quantity of these natural resources, and ultimately we need to look at economic diversification to ensure that we’re sustainable well into the future.”

Sugar Cane Cannabis

More recently, WLFN branched out extensively in the cannabis industry with the creation of Sugar Cane Cannabis cultivation facility. Wholly-owned by WLFN, Sugar Cane Cannabis was part of WLFN’s vision to produce the highest-quality, small-batch craft cannabis and to make it available to customers directly from the facility in which it is grown.

WLFN holds the distinction of entering in to the first government-to-government agreement with the province of British Columbia under section 119 of the BC Cannabis Control and Licensing Act. This watershed agreement provides WLFN with specific powers in relation to cannabis retail, and perhaps most notably authorized WLFN to establish the first “seed-to-sale” or “farm-gate” cannabis cultivation facility in the province.

“Sugar Cane Cannabis has a purpose-built 7,000-square-foot facility where we cultivate cannabis, which is then processed, packaged and sold from the same place that is was grown,” says Dressler. The facility has both a cultivation and retail component and is run primarily by WLFN members.

In 2022, construction was completed, and Sugar Cane Cannabis received its micro-cultivation license. Sugar Cane Cannabis features state-of-the-art cultivation techniques, an industry-leading grow team, and a spectacular boutique retail outlet offering a truly curated cannabis experience.

In conjunction with WLFN’s businesses outlined here, there are also professional services companies. Sugar Cane Archaeology, for example, is a wholly-owned WLFN company run by a select team of Project Managers, Archaeologists, and Natural Resource Specialists and is tied with the WLFN goal of ensuring proper stewardship of the traditional territory and protection of cultural heritage resources. Specializing in heritage management and natural resource stewardship in British Columbia, Sugar Cane focuses on ethical management for responsible industry.

“We take a holistic approach to a development in WLFN’s traditional territory, focusing first on stewardship,” says Dressler. “That’s a big part of it. But in addition to serving as stewards, we also look for opportunities for collaboration or business partnerships.”

“The reality is that a solid economic foundation is necessary to make progress toward the goal of reconciliation. We’re trying to ensure that our community has a reasonable standard of living, that people are employed, and our businesses are generating revenue. That solid economic foundation allows WLFN members to continue to enjoy their spiritual practices and their culture,” says Dressler. “It’s that vision that drives our economic development efforts at WLFN.”

For more information or to get in touch with Williams Lake First Nation, please visit www.wlfn.ca