Flying Dust First Nation, located near Meadow Lake, has been on a formal economic development journey for more than 30 years. While Flying Dust had always had some business activity with its own farm, growing and selling grain since the late 1940s, it was the 1980s when economic growth got its start.
In the Beginning
It began with the founding of their first economic development holding company in 1988. “Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC), where Flying Dust is a member, acquired 50 per cent of NorSask Forest Products back then,” says Albert Derocher, economic development consultant. “And, 10 years later, the MLTC bought the remainder of NorSask.” Now, NorSask is the largest First Nations-owned sawmill in Canada. Its profits help support Flying Dust and the eight other First Nations communities represented in MLTC.
The Next Move
After the complete acquisition of NorSask with MLTC, Flying Dust looked for its next opportunity. In the late 1990s, land came up for sale about 30 kilometres away from the First Nation—and on it was lots of aggregate. “We decided to purchase the land because of the gravel, to address our own needs first,” says Derocher. “First Nations have huge issues with infrastructure, and this was a way to build our own roads and construction projects. We would have our own supply of aggregate that we really needed.” Today, the gravel company that grew from that land acquisition employs 11 people full-time.
After that acquisition, Flying Dust recognized the opportunities in land holdings and construction. This move would bring Flying Dust its first large project with the province of Saskatchewan. “We constructed a 36,000 sq. ft. provincial government building in Meadow Lake,” says Derocher. “That was twenty years ago. We have completed three public-private partnership projects in total, one totalling $11 million.” The work expanded the holding company greatly, and today it has $45 million in asset holdings. Along the way, Flying Dust developed a partnership with a construction firm in Saskatoon, and started its own firm—105 Construction—named after Flying Dust’s First Nation number.
The First Nation also built its own corporate centre. With 37,000 square feet, the centre houses Flying Dust’s administration, health services, economic development offices, and programs and services for its members. There is a branch of First Nations Bank of Canada and offices for the MLTC. MLTC has experienced so much growth however, that a new building is in the works for them. “That 70-unit office building should be completed in spring 2021,” says Derocher.
Food & Energy
The First Nation has taken its agricultural roots to the next level, with the launch of a market garden in 2009. From its simple beginning with just two acres, the market garden is now 172 acres and certified organic. The garden employs 17 people from May to October, and five year-round for maintenance and distribution. Flying Dust has also moved into energy and environmental engineering. In 2013, they acquired their local fuel station and last year, built a new fuel station with Petro Canada. And, Flying Dust founded a new company last year that will focus on oil well remediation. “We’re in the process for applying for permits and work in that field,” says Derocher.
Recreation at the Rink
Flying Dust also saw an opportunity to support the local arena. “Whether you’re a First Nations community or not, arenas are not a moneymaker. We realized we could help subsidize our local arena with a pro shop—Snipe & Celly—which we founded,” says Derocher. Expansion is also underway for the arena and the sporting goods shop. Flying Dust is adding another 5,000 sq. ft to add more space for Snipe & Celly and to house a training facility for athletes. “We want this training facility that to be accessible for local members and Northern Saskatchewan residents to train, especially for elite athletes. It’s been a really proud thing for us,” says Derocher.
Land & Infrastructure
The First Nation is also involved with a commercial land development project near Saskatoon. Flying Dust owns 130 acres near the Saskatoon International Raceway. Currently in the planning stages with the R.M. of Corman Park, there will be more growth in construction and leasing coming soon.
And this property is an addition to the 110 acres on Railway Avenue in Meadow Lake. That parcel will be home to a new water and wastewater treatment plant worth $22 million. “We’re in the bidding process for that project right now,” says Derocher.
In 2017, Flying Dust joined the First Nation Taxation Commission to collect tax revenue. “We tax leasers of our holdings, whether it’s MLTC, Crescent Point Energy or any other groups with facilities on our land,” says Derocher. That tax income is yet another revenue stream that helps build the economic future of Flying Dust.
For Flying Dust, economic development is more than just getting people employed. For Derocher, it’s much larger than just jobs. “It’s about creating the infrastructure, the capacity and the environment to start small businesses, and to get our small businesspeople what they need to do in order to create employment for our people,” says Derocher. Flying Dust actively encourages entrepreneurship for its members, offering business planning to those with an idea.
Flying Dust’s economic development goals have also led to community projects the First Nation would not otherwise have. Not only does it have an expanding arena and training facility, it’s now home to a brand-new ball diamond—built for the Saskatchewan Summer Games last year. A new centre is under construction now that will house a daycare, centres for youth and elders, land-based learning program., and a technology centre for students. Next, a swimming pool and spray park is in the works for the community’s families to enjoy.
“One of the things I always say to people about Flying Dust that we’ve built everything with our own money,” says Derocher. “Whether it’s our arena, our elders’ home, our corporate centre, our MLTC buildings, our gas station—we’ve built all that with our own money. There’s no government money in any of those projects other than maybe some development costs.”
Flying Dust’s economic success over the last 30 years shows their commitment to their community and to doing good business. The First Nation is always looking for its next opportunity and potential partners. When exploring partners and investments, Derocher looks for reputation and sustainability. “We want companies with a long-term vision that we can build a relationship with,” says Derocher. “The door is open, and we’re ready to talk.”
To learn more about Flying Dust First Nation and its economic development opportunities, visit flyingdust.net.
Flying Dust First Nation
8001 Flying Dust Reserve