BCBusiness Innovators 2012, Tsawwassen First Nation | BCBusiness

BCBusiness Innovators 2012, Tsawwassen First Nation | BCBusiness
Back: 2012 BCBusiness Guide to Innovation

Congratulations to Tsawwassen First Nation, #3 in 2012's Most Innovative Companies in B.C.

While the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) has drawn its share of criticism for plans to develop a big chunk of its land, there’s no denying it has set a new precedent in First Nations governance and resource management.

More important than claiming the distinction of ratifying the first urban treaty in B.C., the real innovation lay in the TFN’s collaborative approach. As Chief Kim Baird explains, “The Tsawwassen treaty was the first model that tests voluntary integration with provincial legal, political regimes and systems.”

What that means in practice is that the TFN now has a seat at the board of directors of Metro Vancouver, and is entitled to the same utilities delivered by Metro to its 21 member municipalities. It means that while the TFN has elected its own governing legislature and drawn up its own taxation regime, it relies on the neighbouring Corporation of Delta to collect taxes on its behalf. It means that while non-native residents on TFN land do not have a direct vote in the band’s governing legislature, they do have a say on matters that affect them, including taxation.

“We have conscientiously looked at integration, which is not the same as assimilation, to encourage investment in our lands,” explains Baird. “We think that a key to economic sustainability is going to be to build an economy, and as such we need to welcome investment; we need to parallel systems that investors trust. So everything we’ve designed, from our legislation to how we are trying to be very transparent, to structuring of our regulatory regime . . . all of that has been with the view of using tools that are familiar to investors to instill confidence investing in Tsawwassen.”

Having won the confidence and respect of the business community and neighbouring municipalities, the TFN is now forging ahead with significant economic development, unveiling agreements last January with Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc. and Property Development Group to develop 1.8 million square feet of shopping and office space on 73 hectares flanking the well-travelled approach to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.

For the 41-year-old Baird, these recent developments are the culmination of decades of work that was prompted by her shock at the poverty she saw when she first moved to the Tsawwassen reservation as a teenager.

“Our whole focus is to try to close the socioeconomic gap our members face with our neighbours, and I’m excited,” she says, noting how quickly development has proceeded since the treaty’s final ratification in 2009. “It’s not even three years and the project is in the order of magnitude of half a billion dollars. So far it seems to be working on all levels and I do think it’s a model for others to look at.”