By Heather Exner-Pirot
This month, SFNEDN interviews Albert Derocher, the General Manager of FDB Holdings – Flying Dust First Nation’s corporate arm.
Exner-Pirot: Can you tell me a little bit about FDB Holdings?
Derocher: FDB has a long history – it started in 1988, thirty years ago. Even before that, Flying Dust had a number of land holdings as long ago as 1947.
FDB’s mission is to promote the economic self-sufficiency of Flying Dust First Nation. We do this through sound investments, profitable and sustainable business operations, and effective management. The words I like to use are ‘enable’, ‘enhance’, ‘create’, ‘develop’ and ‘form’:
- We enable FDB to guide economic development in the community.
- We enhance the economic corporate capacity of the community.
- We create an environment that enables business development skills and knowledge.
- We develop management expertise in various business sectors.
- And we form strategic partnerships with various business sectors.
That’s the basis of who we are, what our mission is and what our goals are.
Exner-Pirot: What kind of business sectors is FDB involved in?
Derocher: We’ve been blessed in terms of opportunities.
Under our Holding Corp. we have an industrial property management company. That entity holds all of our facilities. We have in excess of $20 million worth of assets under the property management branch.
We have a gravel company – we have abundant and high quality aggregate in the territory. It’s pretty successful and we are expanding.
We are also expanding our market garden; adding another 6,000 sq. ft. for equipment storage and 8,000 sq. ft. for potato storage space and adding a wash line for quicker processing.
Flying Energy LP is our Oil & Gas Company. We are partnered with Crescent Point Energy in the Stoughton area of SE Sask.
And we are opening a new fuel station in Flying Dust, moving under the Petro Canada banner.
We also just started a brand new construction company. We’ve secured contracts with Enbridge on Line 3. We have contracts with the City of Saskatoon. We’ve done all our own construction on reserve with the market garden, the SIIT centre, and a 40 unit office complex going up on Flying Dust. We’ve built our corporate centre, our community centre, our arena, all ourselves. With no government funding. We’re very proud of that. At the end of the day they are investments to us – investments in our people and our community.
We also have FD Power. We are working on a 20 MW Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with SaskPower through the First Nations Opportunity Fund. It was tough to get in since SaskPower has a monopoly in Saskatchewan. It took 5 years of negotiations to get in the door.
We are well diversified. And everything we are involved in we are at 51% or 100% ownership. I know of some “feather agreements” as I call them where there is no true partnership, where people are using your name in return for 5%. If companies want to create true partnerships with First Nations, they will find a way.
Exner-Pirot: What’s been the key to your success?
Derocher: We’ve always tried to be very humble. It’s hard for us to tell our story, to talk about success. But we are increasingly asked to share our best practices.
At the end of the day it takes a whole team to do this and generations of leadership – it took years of development to get to this point. These things don’t happen overnight. You need to work together and have trust and respect for one another.
You always hear stories about individuals getting into deals, leaders getting in to side deals. The first inkling of that we get around here, we’re hesitant to let those people come back to the table. I am not hesitant to call out any of our leadership or directors on that. We are business-oriented that way and we have a code of ethics that we all follow and that we’ve all signed and agreed to.
There are a lot of core values we hold. Trust and respect, having employment opportunities for our members. We consider our members our shareholders in FDB holdings. Also our financial responsibility -as long as I’ve been alive Flying Dust has had unqualified audits. We’ve consistently been amongst the top three in Saskatchewan based on how we run our finances. You need accountability to yourself and accountability to one another. You’re either all going to look good or all look bad – take your choice.
The other thing is that if we don’t know how to do something, we don’t pretend we do; we bring someone in and learn from them. Too many First Nations try to do it all themselves. That’s many people’s mentality. But if someone has a good track record, use them, get them to help you. Most of the people we have helping us are older and they want to put their knowledge to action, they don’t want to take it to the grave, they want to leave it to someone to use. It’s not always about the money for them.
Exner-Pirot: You’ve been both the General Manager of Flying Dust’s corporate arm and the Economic Development Officer for the band. What’s the difference between those roles?
Derocher: There is no difference – it’s all the same job in my mind. For example we have currently have nine summer students building entrepreneurial experience and capacity. They will meet with Square One [a non-profit business resource centre] and build a business plan, and then half will spend time building and setting up an ice cream stand on reserve as well as staffing the mini golf course. The other half will go work with our gravel company or fuel station. We are not giving them menial jobs but rather opportunities where they can learn about business and entrepreneurship.
In fact Flying Dust has about 30 entrepreneurs already, about 20 of which are on reserve. Some have been very successful. We’re very proud that we have assisted all of them through our economic development grant. To receive it them must fill out a business plan, show how our money will help them leverage other capital to grow their business. The funds are repayable only if they don’t follow through on what they say they will do.
Exner-Pirot: What kind of efforts do you think Saskatchewan First Nations should be prioritizing if they want to grow their economies?
Derocher: In order for First Nations to start capitalizing on some of the opportunities out there, I think the biggest one right now is renewable energy. It’s in your own back yard. Food security is also key. We started with 2 acres a few years back and are now up to 175 acres. You need to take small steps and move towards sustainability.
Proper governance – a charter, a code of ethics – that’s another piece that First Nations have to get established. I don’t think people always appreciate how important the governance piece is. You need to operate at arm’s length from the political leadership.
Some Chiefs are trying to be the business CEO, the health CEO, the education CEO – there’s no such person who can do all of those things well. You have to hire the people that understand health, or education and perhaps have a Master’s or a bachelor degree in the area. Don’t pretend you know how to do everything; find the people who do.
At the same time, we don’t throw our leaders to the side. We treat our former Chiefs and Councillors with respect. When they get voted out, we usually provide them with some employment, maybe on projects they’ve already been working on. Just because they didn’t win a popularity contest doesn’t make them a bad person. That’s what makes us successful – we all work well together. “Teamwork = Success” – that’s our motto and I believe in that.
Exner-Pirot: What’s your vision for FDB in ten years? What would success look like?
Derocher: We want our power company going full tilt with 60 MW [up from the current 20]. We want our railway development to be completed. But most importantly, I want Flying Dust to be self-sufficient. We were always self-sufficient people, until they brought in welfare and family allowance.
I want us to be able to tell Indigenous Affairs, “leave your money at the door”. Whatever you think you owe us, leave it, and we’ll see you later. Yes, they have a fiduciary responsibility to us. But I don’t want them to have any influence in how we conduct our day to day operations.
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