K’ómoks First Nation and Britco

Historically, the K’ómoks have occupied the shoreline on the eastern side, mid-section of Vancouver Island. This land was known as “home of plenty” by K’ómoks’ ancestors. The K’ómoks were hunter gatherers but the primary food source was the ocean. Enduring evidence of ancient fish weirs – a testament to the ingenuity of the K’ómoks’ ancestors – can still be seen in Comox Harbour.

There are approximately 315 band members, of which 113 live on-reserve. The band has four reserves located in the K’ómoks area, the main community being on Comox Indian Reserve #1, adjacent to the Town of Comox. The second reserve is Puntledge Reserve #2, which is located at the confluence of the Puntledge and Tsolum Rivers, adjacent to the City of Courtenay. A third and fourth reserve are located respectively on Goose Spit, adjacent to the Comox Harbour entrance, and near Sayward.

Britco

Founded in 1977, Britco has grown into one of the largest modular construction companies in the industry with approximately 1,000 employees. In Canada, Britco has modular construction facilities in Penticton, Edmonton and Agassiz, as well as strategically located regional branch offices. Britco designs and builds a wide variety of temporary and permanent buildings, including workforce accommodations, motels, seniors’ housing, office complexes, daycare facilities, classrooms, construction site buildings and sales centres, and also offers turn-key construction project management services.

As an Official Sponsor of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, which will be held in Prince George, Britco will provide contributions in kind for the Host Society’s modular building requirements. After the Games, four of the modular buildings will be transformed into fully furnished libraries and donated to First Nation communities in northern BC as a legacy project for the Winter Games. This initiative is similar to Britco’s Olympic Legacy Project following the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in which ten modular buildings supplied by Britco for the Games were transformed into libraries for remote BC First Nation communities.

Britco has seven partnerships with First Nations in western Canada, with more in development. “Many of our clients have operations in northern BC. If you are working in that area then you come into contact with First Nations and that contact has influenced our corporate culture and the way we do business. In addition, 10% of our workforce across Canada are Indigenous,” says Kareem Allam, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Indigenous Relations at Britco.

K’ómoks First Nation and Britco

“We were evaluating our business strategy with First Nations and realized we did not have a partner on Vancouver Island. K’ómoks was very attractive for a whole host of reasons – they are extremely business savvy, they have a strong economic development corporation led by an impressive board of directors, and they acquired and built up their own seafood company, Pentlatch Seafoods Ltd. The K’ómoks First Nation are excellent partners and they have a broad connection in the business community,” says Allam.

Melinda Knox, CEO, K’ómoks Economic Development Corp., says “We were introduced to one another in the fall of 2013 by a mutual friend. At the same time that Britco was looking for a First Nation partner, with all the construction projects slated for Vancouver Island, K’omoks was looking for a modular construction and leasing partner. Britco could offer construction and leasing expertise and K’omoks could bring market intelligence and market expertise to the table. Britco is BC-based, have had a thirty year history on Vancouver Island, and have many successful ventures with other First Nations. The relationship made sense from the outset.

This is a non-project specific partnership. It’s a long-term revenue sharing partnership where a Joint Venture business will be formed. This new jointly owned company will pursue work on projects like the John Hart Dam project,” explained Knox.

Benefits to First Nation partners

  • Revenue stream
  • Sub-contracting opportunities for partner owned businesses
  • Opportunity for training and employment
  • Scholarships (Britco works with Indspire to provide a scholarship to one student from each First Nation partner)

Benefits to Britco

  • Established, well connected business savvy partners
  • Business contacts for new opportunities
  • Access to local knowledge that improves sustainability and appeal to local communities

Lessons learned from K’ómoks’ perspective:

What best pieces of advice can you give corporations who want to form partnerships with First Nations?

  • Make sure the line of communication is open and honest and that you meet regularly.
  • Ensure the agreement meets the needs of both parties
  • Keep building and working together on other opportunities where possible within your traditional territory.

Lessons Learned from Britco’s perspective:

What best pieces of advice can you give corporations that want to form partnerships with First Nations on resource projects?

  • You are not going to compete in British Columbia as a business if you are not signing partnerships with First Nations
  • First Nations own a major portion of the land base in British Columbia so if you need land for your operation, you need to partner with the associated First Nation
  • If you are opening an office in a new community, your best connected partner is a First Nation as they are connected with the business community and the foundations and charities of that community

What best pieces of advice can you give to First Nation communities that may be interested in developing similar partnerships?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are worth – you are a valuable partner