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Celebrating business success, inspiring new generation

Friday October 25, 2013
Bryan Phelan/Wawatay News

Winners at the 2013 NADF Business Awards, from left: Lucie Edwards, Nolan Tozer, Nellie Mitchell (representing her daughter, Dr. Doris Mitchell), David Mackett (representing Sagatay Economic Development), William Quachegan, and Dan Bannon. Missing from the photo are the Bannon Family Council and Jason Blakely.

Brian Davey, executive director of Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF), congratulated the entrepreneurs in front of him for their vision and “doing what you need to do to succeed.”

When the news conference in the Timmins hotel ended, the entrepreneurs moved to the ballroom for a gala dinner celebrating them as NADF Business Award winners.

Some award recipients were missing from the Oct. 17 event, however – too busy doing what they need to do.

The award for New Business of the Year went to Jason Blakely of Blakely Trucking but he was unable to attend due to work commitments. A member of the Pic Mobert First Nation, Blakely began his Thunder Bay-based business in 2011 using a rented trailer to haul logs from woodland areas to various mills in the region. A year ago he bought his own trailer.

Another trucker accepted the Businesswoman of the Year award for her daughter, Dr. Doris Mitchell, who was on-call for the emergency department of Chapleau General Hospital, more than 200 kilometres away.

“I feel proud, very proud, to be her mother,” said Nellie Mitchell, now retired from her own working years as a truck driver, auto mechanic and waitress. “She has worked very hard to get where she is.”

Doris, a Brunswick House First Nation member, operates her own family physician practice in the township of Chapleau.

Even as a little girl, Doris talked of becoming a doctor, Nellie recalled. First, in 1991, she became a registered nurse. As a single mother of two boys, she continued to work full-time while furthering her nursing education part-time at Laurentian University. She graduated in 2010 with honours from the bachelor of science in nursing program. Her studies continued at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, where she trained to become a family doctor.

“It was a long, hard struggle but she did it,” Nellie said.

Most award winners did make it to the gala.

New parents Jenn and Nolan Tozer attended the event with their two-month-old daughter Sophia.
Nolan, a 23-year-old Moose Cree First Nation member, received the Youth Entrepreneur of the Year award as owner and operator of Moose River Tours. He relies on his experience as a guide and knowledge of the land to offer custom tours in the Moose River and James Bay areas, while Jenn books the tours and sometimes makes bannock for their clients. They run the business from their home in Moosonee.

It began about three years ago. “He was always talking about this business he wanted to do, so I said ‘Why don’t you do it? Just do it.’ ” Jenn said of the encouragement she gave her husband for the business startup.

Whitesand First Nation has taken a similar “go for it” approach through Sagatay Economic Development, named Corporation of the Year. Whitesand established Sagatay in 2010 to separate its economic development activities from the First Nation’s administrative functions.

“It started with road building,” said David Mackett, a project manager for the community. “We took over road maintenance for the MNR when industry abandoned the forest up there.”

Sagatay Economic Development has been on a roll ever since.

“We weren’t waiting for others to be the proponents (for economic development) any more,” Mackett said. “We are the proponent, and we’ve taken the lead in everything from taking over the forest up at Whitesand to next year starting construction for green energy. We’ll be the first community in Ontario to shut down the diesel generators and make our own electricity from the forest.”

Whitesand plans to build a combined power and heat plant that runs on biomass. It also proposes a factory for producing wood pellets that would be sold in Canada and in some overseas countries where generating electricity from wood pellets is common.

That’s the future but in addition to road maintenance, Sagatay Economic Development has already accomplished a lot, such as: providing equipment and operators for construction of a curling club and office building in neighbouring Armstrong; becoming the primary heavy equipment contractor in the area for Canadian National Railway; and providing training to Whitesand members so they can participate in current and future projects.

Another company with an interest in power generation is Five Nations Energy, which owns and operates a transmission line that connects the remote First Nation communities of Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Kashechewan to the province’s main hydro grid. Lucie Edwards of Fort Albany, chief executive officer of Five Nations, received the award for Executive of the Year. NADF described her as “a take-charge person who leads her staff with passion and commitment” and acknowledged the many youth development workshops for she has facilitated.

Two other award winners, both carpenters with 20 years of experience, were saluted for their business success and for their support of youth hockey.

William Quachegan, a Moose Cree member living in Timmins, accepted the Building Communities award. He started his own business, WQ Carpentry, in 2011. “William’s thoughtfulness is not only shown in the quality of work he provides his clients,” NADF noted. “He also extends this to Aboriginal youth, recently sponsoring a youth from a midget hockey team, as well as an Aboriginal youth hockey camp.”

NADF recognized Dan Bannon, who operates Dan Bannon Contracting in Fort William First Nation, as Businessman of the Year. “Dan believes in building capacity in individuals who share his passion for building. Over the past 20 years, Dan has … trained 10 individuals in the field of construction. Some are still working with him and others have moved on and are doing great in their field.”

Over that same period, Bannon has sponsored about 200 youth hockey players as a fan of the sport because of “the life skills it brings to the youth.”

Another successful business in Fort William is J&W Confectionary. It started in the mid 1970s in the garage of Howard and Jessie Bannon. Now owned by a Bannon family council of 10 members – winners of the Partnership of the Year award – the business has expanded to include a gas bar and restaurant. Its sales over the past two years exceeded $14 million.

“The outstanding efforts of all the individuals and businesses that have helped bring positive development to First Nations people and their communities is what this event is all about,” said Arlene Meekis-Jung, NADF chairwoman. “It’s a celebration.

“We believe this annual event will not only acknowledge the success of existing businesses but also inspire a new generation of Aboriginal entrepreneurs.”

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