In the urban Indigenous community of Six Nations, responsible development is fostering economic prosperity.
On the banks of the Grand River in Southern Ontario, nestled between Hamilton and Brantford, an increasingly urban Indigenous community has thrived for a quarter of a millennium. Historically a hunting ground for Peoples of the Haudenosaunee confederacy, the land now occupied by the Six Nations of the Grand River became a permanent settlement during the American Revolutionary War when those nations organized and fought alongside British soldiers under Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, the man who gave Brantford its name.
Today, this ancestral hunting ground is an integral part of the economic powerhouse that is Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, but it also remains home to over 12,000 on-reserve band members seeking to make a modern Canadian living.
Building a prosperous future, protecting a proud history
In the era of Truth and Reconciliation, the question of how the Six Nations can drive economic prosperity on their lands without sacrificing their independence, their legacy, and their community values is an essential and multifaceted one. Enter the Six Nations of the Grand River Development Corporation (SNGRDC).
Public Relations Specialist, SNGRDC
“In 2015, we launched SNGRDC as a means to separate business from politics,” explains SNGRDC Public Relations Specialist Alysha Filer. “We invest in projects and build partnerships with businesses like OPG, Pattern Energy, and Samsung. So far, we’ve been putting together clean energy projects, such as wind farms and solar farms, as well as other projects. With the revenue that comes from these projects, we redistribute the surplus profits back into the community.”
Manager of Tourism & Community Development, Six Nations
SNGRDC gains an independence of operation and a persistence of strategy through political cycles by working at arm’s length from the Elected Council, but it remains intrinsically connected to the will of the people. “Because our community is so different, with very strong beliefs, we’re not set up the same as other cities,” says Six Nations Manager of Tourism and Community Development Jaquie Jamieson. “It’s very important to abide by what the community wants and if it’s not something the community wants, the community will let us know. As a result, SNGRDC has a lot of core fundamental values. We’re always looking at what a project is going to bring to the community and what kind of input we’ll be able to have.”
Responsible economic development driven by community values
A strong local belief in sustainability and environmental stewardship, for example, drove SNGRDC’s early focus on renewable energy projects and Indigenous tourism. Through this strong foundation, SNGRDC has established relationships and created space to widen their portfolio. There’s also an emphasis on corporate citizenship within the community, with programs such as Community Collaborators encouraging partners to support community-driven causes and activities. Particular value is placed on employment, training, and career opportunities on Six Nations lands, providing prosperity, a living wage, and economic mobility for local band members and bringing critical Indigenous talent that may have moved off-reserve back home.
In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action, corporations of all sizes across Canada are reevaluating their relationships with Indigenous communities, and SNGRDC’s model provides a clear case for mutual prosperity and responsible development. As they work towards their target of $150 million in annual direct economic impact by 2030, SNGRDC is putting out the call for businesses to put their money where their heart is. But, with centuries of experience behind them and a long view on success, they aren’t going to compromise their values to get there.
“It’s all about quality and the aligning of values,” says Filer. “We’re not looking for speedy partnerships. We’re looking for the right partnerships.”