A new and sustainable future of prosperity and self-reliance for the people of Chiniki First Nation. This is the vision of the Chiniki Trico Corporation, a unique collaboration between Chiniki First Nation and the Trico Group of Companies.
This new partnership had its beginnings in the aftermath of the devastating 2013 flood that hit southern Alberta, including the Chiniki First Nation in Morley, where two years later there were still 159 families who were living in badly damaged, mold-infested homes. Chiniki First Nation Chief Aaron Young reached out to Trico Homes founder and CEO Wayne Chiu, asking if Trico could help the First Nation restore these homes. Although Trico, as a new home builder, did not typically do this type of work, Chiu agreed.
“It was surprising to see how much progress was made in such a short period of time when both teams began to work together,” says Wanda Palmer, Trico Homes vice president, marketing, explaining that the work was completed in 15 months, wrapping up last November. “One of the highlights for our team was employing First Nation members to help with the restoration. They showed such a willingness to contribute and to help restore their community.”
The synergy between Chiniki First Nation and Trico quickly led to discussions of continuing their business relationship, and this past year they formed the Chiniki Trico Partnership Corporation, whose vision is centred around creating self-reliance and business opportunities for the Chiniki First Nation.
The Chiniki Trico Partnership’s first initiative was to create the Chiniki Cultural Centre and Stones Restaurant, which opened in late September, and is accessible from the TransCanada Highway at Morley via Exit 131.
The Cultural Centre honors Chiniki history and culture through sharing food, art, music, traditions, activities and storytelling. There is a cultural exhibition area, which displays archival photos, stories and artifacts; a Gallery Shop showcasing artwork, beadwork, handiwork and clothing made by artists and artisans of the Chiniki First Nation, the Stoney Nakoda, Treaty 7 First Nations, and Indigenous communities across Canada. There is also special programming and activities offered at a tipi encampment, where visitors can learn about drumming, drink tea with elders, and go on nature hikes, among many other experiences. “There is a ton of activities. It’s very experiential.”
When visitors are ready for a bite to eat, Stones Restaurant offers an authentic Indigenous food experience with a menu based on recipes handed down from generation to generation, using locally sourced seasonal foods. “You get a really elevated and unique dining experience,” Wanda says.
The Chiniki Trico Partnership’s next initiative is a renewable energy solar project on a 400-acre site on Chiniki land that will not only benefit Chiniki First Nation, creating new employment opportunities and skills development, but also the wider Alberta community, Wanda notes. “It has the potential to add significant clean energy into the Alberta grid, generating up to 30 megawatts of power.”
If everything continues to go well, she adds, the Chiniki Trico Partnership will be a true collaboration, with a common goal of enriching the quality of life of the Chiniki people through social and economic development opportunities.
As Wayne Chiu said, “It will create optimism and opportunities for the younger generation,” Wanda explains. “They can look to education to develop their skills, and this will lead them to long term career opportunities.”