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First contracts, first concerns

First Nation’s contractors start work at the site of the 2010 Nordic Centre

The Squamish and Lil’wat communities have been awarded a $15 million contract for the first phase of work to be done for the 2010 Winter Olympic Nordic Centre in the Callaghan Valley.

The contracts flow from the Shared Legacies agreement signed between the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, the Province and the two First Nations in November 2002. Both Nations claim the Callaghan as a shared traditional territory.

The work being done covers access road preparation work, site clearing, and brush clearing as the construction of the $102 million Nordic Centre gets underway.

Under the agreement between the Vancouver Organizing Committee and the First Nations the bands will get about 15 per cent of the work. The companies doing the work must be 51 per cent First Nations owned.

Since the thrust of the agreement, said Lil’wat economic development officer Lyle Leo, is to provide opportunity and training for First Nations people the companies doing the work must be majority aboriginal owned.

At this point, admits Leo, there are few First Nations companies who can do the work. The hope is that partnerships will be formed with companies who have expertise so that aboriginal workers and managers get training for the future.

At the root of this plan, said Leo, is the community’s decision to look for opportunities off-reserve.

"We realize that we wanted to become net contributors to the society at large and that’s a new area of relationship building," said Leo.

"That is a matter of educating not only our community in dealing with issues off-reserve, but also seeking business opportunities, and employment and training.

"It is also means cross education with the non-aboriginal community that yes, we will be having a presence, and yes, we will be participating, and we will be as competitive in the process to acquire that sustainable business."

But Whistler Excavations owner Paul Belanger has some grave concerns about how the First Nations were awarded the contract and the work that is now going on in the Callaghan. On a visit to the site he saw few First Nations people working.

"My concern is that if you are going to award contracts to First Nations based on tendering only to First Nations contractors then my feeling is that only First Nations people should be working on those contracts," said Belanger.

"Otherwise if you are awarding those contracts based on First Nations companies sub-contracting to (non-aboriginal) where’s the benefit?"

Belanger is also concerned about the transparency of the agreements, which never went to tender.

"I don’t see how they can arbitrarily award $15 million worth of contracts like that," he said. "Basically you have no transparency so how do they know they are getting value for money?"

No one form the Squamish Nation returned calls.

But Leo said the Lil’wat band is open to discuss the agreements.

"If (people) are not understanding the First Nations issues we are willing to meet and discuss any issues (businesses) have and provide some information so we can possibly work together," he said.

"The opportunities provide for fair process and they provide for partnerships and it is those partnerships that we need to work on. If we continue to go down this road with adversarial positions and principles then it is not going to work and we are not going to create sustainable businesses post 2010 Games.

"They will have come and gone and we need to make sure that we do work together to make them as profitable and sustainable and as environmentally friendly as we can."

From VANOC’s perspective the awarding of the contracts to the First Nations was the right thing to do.

"In the big scheme of things it is about trying to use this event to be the thing that helps (First Nations) turn a corner in terms of jobs, and in terms of having fair access to the workforce," said VANOC spokeswoman Maureen Douglas.

VANOC is committed to more than just featuring aboriginal people in cultural events. It wants them to success in receiving an economic legacy. But that doesn’t mean First Nations companies won’t have to meet the stringent requirements for venue construction.

"They have to prove that they have the qualifications, the equipment, the opportunity to potentially employ and or train First Nations people and the ability to bring it in on time and on budget," said Douglas.

"So from that point of view the qualifications in terms of ability to do the job is the same as everybody else’s and they have to adhere to those."

And Douglas points out there are millions of dollars in work still to be awarded locally. In fact, she added, Coastal Mountain Excavations was just awarded a contract for work at the Sliding Centre on Blackcomb.