A Successful Partnership with Fox Lake Cree Nation

Published on : 5/9/22
  • Overview

    The Fox Lake Cree Nation consists of about 1,200 community members, traditionally from the lower Nelson River territories. Half of the members live in the Gillam and Bird reserves. The history of their people is fraught with displacement, destruction of lands and cases of discrimination and abuse.

    For generations, members of Fox Lake were locked out of decision-making regarding their land and livelihood. The Gillam reserve never came. The legacy of the Sixties Scoop — when trains whisked children away to residential schools. The inability to vote and have a voice in government affairs until the 1960s. And especially, and most impactful, the dams. The exploitation of the Nelson River for its power-generating potential changed the land forever.

    But in recent years, the tide has turned.

    Today, Fox Lake, along with many other First Nations in the area, has agency over its business ventures, its land and its culture. It took determination and perseverance, but the people of Fox Lake finally have a seat at the table, as they always should have.

    In the last few years, Fox Lake Cree Nation has chosen to partner with Sodexo Canada on many occasions to support a variety of projects in Northern Manitoba. This long-lasting relationship continues to provide employment opportunities and to allow revenue sharing — a legacy of positive impact for the community.

    A History of Painful Memories

    Fox Lake’s history is fraught with distrust and frustration. And for good reasons.

    The Fox Lake Cree Nation received recognition in the 1950s. But it took decades for the federal government to reward the long-hoped-for reservation territory.  This left the land they had lived on for generations unprotected and susceptible to exploitation.

    Meanwhile, children from the community were being whisked away to residential schools. What was later referred to as the “60s Scoop” had a catastrophic impact on Indigenous communities across the country. But for the people of Fox Lake, there was more trauma to come.

    In 1966, construction began for the Kettle Generating Station, the first of four giant dams built on the Nelson River. And the flooding began.

    Water swelled up the riverbanks. Hunting grounds were destroyed. But worst of all, the town of Gillam, where the Fox Lake Cree built their community, flooded with outsiders. At the peak of construction in the mid-70s, around 5,500 people lived in Gillam, up from the few hundreds 10 years prior.

    In the decades that followed, reserves were finally allocated, both in Gillam and Bird, 53 kilometers north. The population of Fox Lake stabilized at around 1,200 people.

    But the land had changed. And so had the people.

    What didn’t change was the continued discrimination, harassment and violence the Nation faced. Since the 1960s, and until quite recently, construction of the four major dams along the Nelson River brought an influx of drugs and alcohol, as well as unchecked racist behavior and disregard for sacred lands and traditions.

    Finally, there was a turning point. The people of Fox Lake fought back. It took a blockade and a lot of communication, but an agreement was reached: the community would have a seat at the table and be involved in developing programs for the community to flourish.

    A Beneficial Partnership

    The business partnership between Fox Lake and Sodexo Canada is proving beneficial for both parties.

    The relationship began with a test run. When a local motel could not run their restaurant, Sodexo and Fox Lake partnered to manage it together. The success of this joint venture helped build the trust necessary to grow the partnership.

    Since then, Fox Lake and Sodexo have started businesses and run operations in the service industry in and around the town of Gillam. That is, in addition to the joint efforts to run the food services at a major work camp in the area.

    Fox Lake and Sodexo’s working relationship is also stronger thanks to the quarterly meetings held to keep all projects in check and discuss other opportunities.

    Robert Wavey, who is a special advisor to the Fox Lake Cree Nation's chief and council, says:

    Sodexo is a good example of meaningful benefits to the community. With the source revenues that are generated because of the joint venture, Fox Lake has managed to build two administration offices, and [indirectly] managed to startup businesses.

    Igniting Indigenous growth through partnerships has a great impact not only on the communities we join forces with but also on our own Indigenous workforce.

    Of the workforce employed in remote locations, 63% are Indigenous. Our commitment to training and professional development is at the forefront of our partnerships. And it is no different with the Fox Lake Cree Nation, and the Nations in Northern Manitoba.

    Wavey continues:

    With respect to Sodexo, they try to move up indigenous employees into positions where they can grow. The training, the Red Seal designation, those types of things will be even more important moving forward.

    The trainings have proven valuable. The workforce in the area is trained or at least has experience in the hospitality industry, as well as facilities management. This in turn opens doors for members to pursue opportunities in Gillam and further. Indeed, many workers have had the opportunity to grow with Sodexo in other locations, both in and out of the province.

    One of our major efforts revolves around training cooks to become Red Seal certified. We worked with Sodexo chef Blaine Prince — a member of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation — to train aspiring cooks. The students work full-time and devote 800 hours of training toward their Red Seal Chef certification. The program is the first of its kind and provides Indigenous students with on-site learning. It is offered in partnership with Assiniboine Community College, the Manitoba government and University College of the North.

    I am proud to share my expertise with other Indigenous people, says Chef Blaine. By teaching them new skills I also give them confidence and options.

    Thanks to our commitment to promoting and fostering a culture of diversity and equal opportunities in the workplace, Indigenous team members feel safe and excel in their positions. We know that an engaged workforce means better morale and in turn stronger communities.

    It is our duty, as a company, to support and elevate Indigenous communities by developing partnerships enabling growth, sustainability and shared synergies.

    When asked what he would tell any First Nations community wanting to partner with Sodexo, Robert Wavey says, “I would give them the example of Fox Lake. [I would tell them about] how we benefited, how we grew the relationship. I would give them the example of the monetary benefits. The total benefits for the community.”

    Creating Awareness Through Education

    In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Call to Action #92, Sodexo has built an Indigenous History and Culture training for all salaried employees, developed in collaboration with Reconciliation Education and the First Nations University of Canada.

    Learn more about the three-hour mandatory course.

    Learn more about how we foster long-lasting relationships with Indigenous communities.