Huu-ay-aht, Tla-o-qui-aht earn BC Aboriginal Business Awards

Vancouver Island

Two Nuu-chah-nulth Nations have been recognized for Outstanding Business Achievement through the BC Aboriginal Business Awards.

The BC Achievement Foundation announced Sept. 12 that the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses will be honoured under the Community-Owned Business (two or more entities) category, while Tla-o-qui-aht took the award in the Community-Owned Business (single entity) section for their Best Western Tin Wis Resort.

In a statement to Ha-Shilth-Sa, Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses board chair Angela Wesley said the award reinforces the Nation’s long-term economic strategy.

“The Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses is very pleased to receive this recognition and award,” Wesley wrote. “It’s our job to support the strong vision of Huu-ay-aht First Nations of creating an economy in our territories and providing employment for our citizens so we can see more of our people move home.”

Trevor Cootes is an elected Huu-ay-aht councillor and holds the economic development portfolio.

"The Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses is separated into seven limited partnerships," Cootes explained, adding it was specifically the Hospitality LP operation that drew the attention of the BC Achievement Foundation.

"Within that is a number of tourism operations, combinations of food and beverage," he said.

In early 2016, Huu-ay-aht acquired a package of 11 properties in the Bamfield area once owned by the controversial entrepreneur Jack Purdy, Cootes explained. Most needed only minor repairs or restoration. All told, Hospitality LP now owns and operates a motel, two lodges, a campground, as well as a pub and restaurant.

"Four of these were turn-key operations, one of which was the motel, with a pub attached. The other was the Kingfisher Lodge, which had boat slips attached to it, and offered marine fuel. The Ostrom's Lodge also has boat slips and marine fuel, and the airport," said Cootes

He explained that the "airport" is a rather modest operation.

"It's a landing field with some land and buildings on it. We actually do have some revenue generating from it."

Cootes said the growth of the Group of Businesses has been the result of "planning, things evolving and opportunities arising." The Hospitality LP acquisition flowed from a group decision to expand Huu-ay-aht's investment in the tourism industry.

"Huu-ay-aht has laid out three priorities in our Economic Development Plan: forestry, fisheries and tourism," Cootes explained. "In each of them, we have always had a stake, and have participated in those areas of the industry. The change over the last couple of years is our ability to be successful in all three [at once]."

Forestry has been the standby for Huu-ay-aht over the years. In recent years, the Nation has become a stakeholder in the Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation, which, in 2015, acquired St. Jean's Cannery.

"It really speaks to the successful relationship among First Nations in being able to venture into purchasing a large company together," he said.

Cootes took on the Economic Development portfolio two years ago, as the Nation took a major stride into the tourism sector.

"We have developed the Kiixin Tourism Strategy," Cootes said, explaining that Kiixin is the historic Huu-ay-aht village site.

"It's the name of our tourism plan, and it's also the name of the tours that we offered this summer as a pilot project."

Part of the strategy has included building boardwalks and biking paths between Bamfield, Kiixin and the Huu-ahy-aht village of Anacla. That has made the area much more safe and accessible for visitors.

"With all of our tourism offerings we are able to be a big contributor to the tourism industry in the Bamfield area. We have increased traffic quite dramatically," he said. "When you look at the number of businesses, job creation... Huu-ay-aht is now the largest contributor to the Bamfield community."

Wesley said bringing the former Purdy properties back into thriving operations is all part of that long-term vision.

“We look forward to continuing to increase our presence and grow our businesses for the benefit of Huu-ay-aht and the region overall,” she wrote.

“Our team has worked very hard over the past two seasons to get these businesses back on their feet and we’re proud of the work they’ve done.  We’re already seeing the positive impacts in Bamfield and our plan is to continue to grow and improve.”

As a side note, Cootes added that Huu-ay-aht has also created a grant program for budding entrepreneurs.

"So often, our citizens have their own tools and their own skill set, but they don't have that little bit of capital to get that approval from [Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation]. So what we offer is up to $5,000 for a citizen that is trying to get into business for themselves."

Creating jobs and employment is part of a greater strategy to bring Huu-ay-aht members back to their home community. The goal is to have 600 members – half the Huu-ay-aht population – living in the traditional territory by 2033.

"There's a lot of building to be done," Cootes said.

The BC Aboriginal Business Awards will be presented at a gala dinner ceremony on Oct. 26, 2017 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

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