Entrepreneurs with tradition: How history weaves a path of success for Musqueam
- Entrepreneurs with tradition: How history weaves a path of success for Musqueam
BY SHAWN CONNER, VANCOUVER SUNJUNE 21, 2013 3:11 AM
In the 1980s, Musqueam band member Wendy John noticed that community members were making Cowichan Indian sweaters, which are based on a Scottish way of knitting. She wondered why no one was weaving blankets in the Musqueam tradition anymore.
"We started a couple of programs and got some women interested in that," said John, who sits on the band council and is a weaver herself. Many of those weavers now have small businesses. "It's a side business, but it is a business, and it's based on the cultural values of our people."
Blanket-weaving, a Musqueam tradition, is by no means the band's chief source of income. But keeping with tradition goes hand in hand with entrepreneurship for the First Nation.
Today, income for the more than 1,000 members of the nation comes from a variety of sources. The only First Nation whose reserve community lies within the boundaries of the city of Vancouver, the Musqueam have holdings that include the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, the Musqueam Golf Centre, and the Shalimar Townhouse Development. The band also has an interest in the River Rock Casino Resort and owns the Fraser Arms Hotel.
"It's part of one of our old villages," John said of the hotel. "We wanted to give it its just due. We're not always looking at the bottom line. A hotel doesn't have a lot of margin for generating revenue. All of these purchases and developments are underpinned with the idea you do become involved in creating wealth and shared prosperity, but not to the detriment of your cultural values."
She believes that the popular perception is that the band is litigious. But she says that going to court is one of the few ways the nation has been able to protect its land.
"The land is what sustains you," John said.
"We go to court to acquire more land so we can continue business development based on the value system of our people."
The band, through its Musqueam Capital Corporation, is part of a joint venture to construct Milltown Marina, on the Fraser River in the Marpole neighbourhood.
The nation is also in the process of rezoning a nine-hectare site, acquired through a reconciliation agreement in 2008.
The land is across from the University Golf Club and will be home to a new mixed-use neighbourhood.
"I really give credit to our ancestors and their teachings to be able to create this entrepreneurial spirit in a modern context," John said.
"What they said was, 'How best do we use what we own to create this wealth without losing the essence of being sustainable, of being environmentally aware of what we're doing to our land, and ensuring that when you're creating business that as many people as possible can be part of that vision going forward.' "
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