If you were to ask two Yukon First Nations how to spell partnership, they just might answer P-E-L-L-Y, C-O-N-S-T-R-U-C-T-I-O-N – Pelly Construction Ltd.
As it was put Wednesday morning by representatives of the Selkirk First Nation and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, the Whitehorse heavy equipment company has been invaluable in advancing their economic and social interests.
The audience attending this week’s first Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Whitehorse heard of how last summer’s road improvement project in Pelly Crossing by local operators wouldn’t have happened without Pelly Construction.
They heard how residents in the isolated community of Old Crow have their class one driver’s licences largely because of the partnership between Pelly Construction and the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership.
It was 15 years ago when Ron Daub of the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership walked into Pelly’s Whitehorse office to see if the company was interested in bringing some equipment up to Old Crow to do some work, Pelly vice-president Jennifer Byram recalled yesterday.
Pelly, she said, had never thought about it.
Byram said she attended a three-day special assembly in the community, at which the proposal to build a gravel quarry on Crow Mountain was discussed.
Former Vuntut Gwitchin chief Joe Linklater humourously told the audience if they ever wanted a lesson in politics, try standing before a hall full of community members and tell them you want to dig a big hole in their beloved mountain.
The following year, Porcupine Enterprise was formed – 51 per cent ownership by the Vuntut Gwitchin, 49 per cent Pelly Construction – and a winter road was built from the Dempster Highway to the community to bring in equipment and supplies.
Gravel from the Crow Mountain quarry has supplied the community’s needs for countless housing projects, the riverbank stabilization project and the extension of the community’s runway, the audience heard.
Porcupine Enterprise has done work in Inuvik, on the Dempster.
Whenever projects are undertaken in the community of some 250 residents, whether it’s the Yukon government doing the work, ATCO Electric Yukon, or visiting construction companies, Porcupine is usually involved, the audience heard.
And because of the strength of their partnership, they’re now constructing buildings in Whitehorse, Byram said.
Jeremy Harper of the Selkirk First Nation’s Selkirk Development Corp. relayed the same success story regarding the community’s partnership with Pelly Construction.
It may have started with the arrangement between the Selkirk First Nation, Capstone Mining and its Minto Mine, with Pelly providing the community with employment opportunities as the company running the open pit operation, he said.
Harper said the relationship, however, has blossomed from there.
Byram explained when Pelly Construction was interested in three projects in the Faro area, in Selkirk’s traditional territory, they called up the First Nation and asked about the possibility of applying the partnership agreement they had for the Minto mine to the Faro projects.
The answer was yes, she said, noting the First Nation has been supportive of Pelly’s endeavours outside the mining operation.
Harper said last year’s local road improvement project in Pelly Crossing using local operators would never have happened without Pelly Construction.
It was something, he said, to see the pride on the faces of the men and women taking part in building their own community.
“That was a significant project we did together,” Harper told the audience. “Without partnerships like the one the Selkirk Development Corporation has with Pelly Construction, there would be very limited opportunities for our citizens.
“... The Selkirk Development Corporation looks forward to continuing our partnership with Pelly Construction and the Minto Mine and other ventures as they come on line within our traditional territory.”
The former chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin and a director of the Vuntut Gwitchin Limited Partnership told the audience the free enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit has always been in the blood of the Gwitchin.
Linklater emphasized how trapping provided a living for many long before documents were written.
The first Indian agent never showed up in Old Crow until 1950, he pointed out.
Linklater said while the Gwitchin are taught not to brag, he remembers an Old Crow trapper telling his dad back in the 1970s how he’d made about $57,000 that season, before spring trapping at Old Crow Flats.
“So we are no strangers to economic development, free enterprise,” he told the audience. “That is how we lived, in fact.”
Linklater recalled how his late Auntie Alice Frost stood before the 1970s Berger inquiry into the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
She told the inquiry the Gwitchin didn’t want the Department of Indian Affairs. All they wanted was their life back, he recalled her telling the inquiry.
Linklater said the partnership with Pelly Construction is building the road back to self-sufficiency, and self-sufficiency was the very foundation of the historic document Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.
In one year, he said, Porcupine Enterprise put $2 million in paycheques on the streets of Old Crow. That money went to taxes and mortgages, and flowed south for the purchase of snowmachines, ATVs, outboard motors....
Linklater said the Vuntut Gwitchin are proud and honoured to be partnered with Pelly Construction.
And if you want to see a vision come together, the former chief said don’t put it in the hands of the politicians.
Place it in the hands of the business community, because the business community not only has the vision, it has the plan, and it has the budget, he said.
Linklater told the audience that education – above all, more than anything – is the key to self-sufficiency.
The three-day Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference was organized by the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce, now in its third year of operations.