Publication: Wind Speaker, February 1, 2002
Growth, innovation and prosperity are goals shared by virtually all Canadian companies, and provincial governments across the country are increasingly recognizing the importance of Aboriginal businesses and putting forth programs to foster their success is these areas.
The Ontario government, through its extensive 'Building Aboriginal Economies' strategy, is at the forefront of this trend. One aspect of their strategy is to increase the number of Aboriginal/corporate partnerships within the province, and to recognize existing, successful partnerships that might be used as models for future ventures.
In November 2001, the partnership between Six Nations Natural Gas Company Limited and union Gas Limited was chosen as the winner of the second annual Ontario Aboriginal Partnerships Recognition Award.
"This partnership has had a very positive' ripple effect throughout the community," said Ontario's Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs, David Young. "Ontario is working with Aboriginal communities and the corporate sector to build market-driven partnerships to support our mutual goal of Aboriginal self-reliance, entrepreneurship and the creation of long-term employment."
Government's own research certainly demonstrates the need for such initiatives. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has reported that the continuing fast Aboriginal population growth and the need to address high Aboriginal unemployment will require approximately 500,000 Aboriginal jobs by 2016. Although there are at present some 4,000 Aboriginal-owned businesses in Ontario, most of them are small, home-based operations-in primary and traditional sectors such as fishing and trapping, transportation, agriculture, and contracting.
Six Nations Natural Gas, on the other hand, is one of a growing number of Aboriginal companies operating successfully in a more value added economic sector. It is the first natural gas utility owned and built by a First Nation community in Canada, and as outlined by its General Manager, Nick Petruzzella, its achievements certainly warrant the recent recognition.
"We sell in excess of 4.5 cubic metres [of natural gas] a year, compared to our first year when we sold 250,000 cubic meters. At the end of our first business year we had about 150 customers, and now we have over 1,800."
The first year for Six Nations Natural Gas was 1989, when the council's then economic development manager put forth the idea of building a natural gas pipeline across the reserve. The utility company that had previously served the community was not particularly effective or efficient, and the need was certainly there.
"Prior to Six Nations Natural Gas being formed, there was another gas company that operated on one geographic portion of the reserve--about a quarter of the reserve was covered by it," explained Petruzzella. "It was old, and it was not well maintained. It had reached its capacity in terms of gas that could be put through...