Start with something you know, is what I keep on telling myself as I work on this week’s blog. Being new to the world of social enterprise, I will admit that I was at a loss when trying to decide what to write about. That was until I realized that I had been exposed to a number of social enterprises before I joined the Trico Foundation team but lacked the vocabulary to identify them as such. I come from a Sociology background with my academic focus being Aboriginal peoples and it occurred to me that to make this first “deep-dive” a success, it would be best to stick with something I know. So for this blog I have decided to discuss Aboriginal peoples and social enterprise, specifically focusing on the Osoyoos First Nation.
Like many of you, having driven through Osoyoos I am always amazed by the various resorts, vineyards & wineries available to tour. But for me, one vineyard sets itself apart—the Osoyoos First Nation’s Nk’mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winey. The winery can produce 162,000 liters of both red and white wine, has won numerous awards, and their wines are available for purchase in Calgary. I was first introduced to the Osoyoos First Nation on the CBC 8th Fire Series, and then on my second day working with the Trico Foundation I was surprised to learn that their winery is a social enterprise.
The late Chief Phillip Martin of the Choctaw Tribe once said “never do anything without a proper feasibility study.” These words obviously had an impact on Chief Clarence Louie, as the Osoyoos First Nation continues to expand their community-owned enterprises. The funds from these enterprises are used to meet the social needs of members by topping-up government funding, and supporting education and training initiatives. Because the band operates its own educational, social, medical and municipal services, band members are employed and unemployment is decreased drastically. Additionally, economic development occurs through preserving culture, as these enterprises and programs adhere to cultural guidelines– Community success is the goal of these ventures and economic success is the way through which the Osoyoos First Nation has chosen to support their community members.
This development has been achieved through the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation (OIBDC) which was formed in 1988. This Corporation strictly adheres to business principals, which have been credited for their success. Today, the OIBDC is $14 million dollar organization that works in both existing and new business ventures; the end goal being the creation of a sustainable economy similar to pre-contact. Beyond the Cellars and vineyards, the Osoyoos First Nation is also involved in a variety of other community owned enterprises:
- Nk’mip RV Park
- Nk’mip Resort
- Spirit Ride Vineyard Resort & Spa
- Mount Baldy Ski Corporation
- Nk’mip Canyon Desert Golf Course
- Canyon Desert Resort
- Nk’mip Construction
- Senkulmen Business Park
- Nk’mip Conference Centre
Each venture represents a piece of the overall tourism and agricultural master plan for the First Nation and is strategically implemented piece by piece when the capacity exists. When developing a new business venture, the Osoyoos First Nation is not afraid to admit that they may lack certain skills within their community. They often choose to partner with individuals and companies outside of their First Nation who have the experience and skills to assist in their social enterprises. This is one way in which they are able to strictly adhere to business practices. To further their social enterprise endeavors the Osoyoos Indian Band Centre for Aboriginal Community Enterprise was opened. This centre has allowed the Osoyoos First Nation to connect with other Aboriginal communities and share their economic development strategies. For example in 2009, twenty-three NWT communities sent representatives to attend a two day economic development seminar hosted by the Osoyoos First Nation and funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (at the time INAC). This seminar addressed the band’s experiences in regards to economic development and their lessons learned.
Hopefully we will see an increasing number of Aboriginal-run social enterprises in the near future. But for now, enjoy a great bottle of Canadian wine and explore these other interesting examples of Aboriginal-run social enterprises: Neechi Foods & Many Nations