The Shuswap Indian Band (SIB) is a First Nation community in the East Kootenays. The band has 260 members, and two reserves on 1,240 hectares of land, with its main reserve located one mile north of Invermere. Whereas many First Nations have focused their economic development on natural resource industries such as fishing, forestry and mining, the Shuswap Indian Band has focused on commercial, residential and land development.
In the early 1990s, SIB began an economic development program based on its location in a growing hub of provincial tourism activity. By gaining jurisdiction over designated lands on reserve, the Band was able to undertake a physical development plan
that addressed infrastructure needs and led to numerous development and revenue opportunities.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Twenty years ago, the Shuswap Indian Band was, in its words, a run-down community with high unemployment. As a Band that believes government subsidies are not productive sources of income, band members decided it was time for a change; it was time to take a proactive approach to financing their affairs and securing a brighter economic future for their people. The process began with two actions. The first was a frank assessment of what assets the Band, its people and land had to offer. The second was to collect feedback from the community about what type of economic development and quality of life the people wanted.
The Shuswap Indian Band’s most valuable asset was – what`s also known as one of the biggest keys to success in the real estate and destination resort business- location, location, location. SIB’s reserve land is located in the heart of the Columbia Valley tourist corridor, also known as “the Calgary Playground”, where nearby resorts, golf courses and national parks, like Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, Panorama Ski Resort and Lake Windermere, attract thousands of people from Calgary, the rest of Alberta, and British Columbia.
For years, other bands had suggested SIB get into resort development. One notable proponent was Chief Walter Twinn, the head of Alberta’s Sawridge First Nation and a Canadian Senator. At the time, the Sawridge First Nation was one of the richest First Nations in the country. Oil had been discovered on their reserve land and the band had used its oil royalties to expand into numerous ventures, including the resort business. Twinn was impressed with the beauty, location and economic potential of SIB’s reserve land.
As a Band governed by the Indian Act, the Shuswap Indian Band did not technically own nor could they sell any reserve land. It also required the approval of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to lease land for commercial, agricultural, recreational or other purposes. The Band would not be able to attract investors and developers to it unless it could provide the same certainty that came with fee-simple land, where developers could buy land outright or sign long-term 99-year leases.
To attract investment and provide developers and businesses with certainty, the Band entered into AANDC’s land designation process, a costly process that usually takes three to four years to complete.
Between 1993 and 1994, the Band staff put together comprehensive physical and economic development plans in consultation with band members. The plans identified 500 acres for development, strategies and opportunities for commercial and resort development, as well as the infrastructure needed to attract investors, such as a water and sewage system.
AANDC reviewed the land use, lease terms, licensing requirements, environmental and site studies, and a wide range of other issues. Two years later, in 1996, AANDC approved the Band’s plan for a water and sewage system and commercial and residential development.
Once approved by AANDC, the new land designation also had to be approved by Band members in a federally mandated referendum. It was approved easily as SIB’s Chief and Council had sought the input and approval of its development plan from Band members before approaching AANDC.
With 500 acres of its lands now designated for economic development and infrastructure construction, the Band created the Kinbasket Development Corporation (KDC) to hold the head lease of the designated lands, implement the Band’s economic development plans, and operate as the Band’s real estate development arm. The head lease effectively makes KDC the temporary property owner of the designated reserve land.
KDC is a wholly owned corporate extension of the Shuswap Indian Band. It operates as a regular company, independent from Band activities, with a duly appointed board of directors and a full?time manager. The Band also created the Kinbasket Water and Sewer Company to plan, build and manage its proposed water and sewer services system.
According to Dean Martin, CEO of Kinbasket Development Corporation (KDC), the key to the land designation was including future developmental projects. “You have to let AANDC know every possible thing you will do,” said Martin.
Including these future developments in the designation process saved the Band time and money. It meant they would not have to go through other land designation approvals for future expansion, which could have taken years for each designation.
Following the approval of its land designation, the Band entered into a long-term lease with Stone Creek Properties to build the Eagle Ranch Golf Resort on reserve. Part of the deal included SIB providing Stone Creek Properties with water and sewer infrastructure and services for its resort.
To finance its proposed $1.8-million water and sewer system, the Band invested $500,000 in unencumbered cash and secured a $1.3 million loan from the Bank of Montreal (BMO) by using the lease payments from Stone Creek Properties as collateral. The term of the bank loan was 15 years with bridge financing and bank charges built into the loan. While the Band and BMO had a working relationship going back more than a decade, this was the Band’s first major loan with the bank.
As a result, BMO also requested and received a $1.1 million loan guarantee from Aboriginal Business Canada, as well as an assignment of the lease payment should KDC fail to meet its monthly payments.
Water and sewer system
While the Bands water and sewer system was designed primarily to support its own on-reserve needs, the Band recognized the region’s potential for growth, as well as its existing water and sewage issues. Previous developments around nearby Lake Windermere had left the area’s septic fields saturated, meaning future development in the area would be limited by a lack of septic services. The Shuswap reserve, on the other hand, boasted land that was well suited geologically for a sewer treatment facility and a good, deep aquifer to supply water.
During the land designation process, SIB had the foresight to present AANDC with plans for an “oversized” water and sewer system that would have the capacity to meet both current and future requirements of the First Nation, as well as the needs of potential off?reserve customers.
Construction of the system began in late 1997. According to Dean Martin, “as soon as people saw the big blue pipes and yellow machinery along the highway, companies like Super 8 (Motels) and Tim Hortons began calling us, looking to be a part of our development plans.” Companies were especially interested in locating their businesses near the intersection of Kootenay Highway (93/95) and Althalmer Rd, and along Althalmer Rd, which leads to Invermere one kilometer off the highway.
Construction of the water system continued over 16 months between 1997 and 1999. Along the way, the Band was approached by the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), which for 30 years had struggled to provide water and sewage services to lands neighbouring the Band’s. To meet current demand, address environmental concerns, and enable future development, RDEK partnered with the Band in early 2001 for water and sewer services through a contract for services.
Since then, RDEK and the Band have expanded their reciprocal relationship. The Band’s on reserve airport (Shuswap Airport) is contracted to the regional district to serve as the RDEK Regional Airport, and RDEK is contracted to provide the Band with hospital, landfill, recreation facilities, and library services. (Note: Shuswap Airport boasts the highest number of light-aircraft flights in the region, with air traffic counts increasing every year. The proximity of the airport to local resorts brings in visitors from across the country and around the world.)
Currently the population in the region surrounding the reserve sits at about 2,500. The Band’s water and sewer system has the capacity to service an off-reserve population of about 18,000.
During the construction of the water and sewage system, the band undertook several commercial and residential projects.
Black Forest Heights
The Band’s first housing build-out was Black Forest Heights, a 64-unit residential development of semi-detached homes on reserve, just east of Invermere. For this project, the Band found a partner to help finance and build the project. Together, they worked with AANDC on the residential development and learned the challenges of developing reserve lands. The project was completed in 1998 and sold quickly, which encouraged KDC to expand its scope and vision for other ventures.
Kinbasket Commercial Centre
Kinbasket Commercial Centre has two distinct areas: Timber Rock Village, which houses a number of retail boutiques; and a highway commercial strip with hotels and travelling facilities, such as Super 8 Hotels, Tim Hortons and Home Hardware. The businesses in the commercial centre have exceptional visual prominence along highway 93/95 and draw a high volume of stop and go traffic. That volume has increased since KDC worked with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to maximize accessibility by twinning the highway in front of the centre and installing traffic lights.
Eagle Ranch Golf Resort
Eagle Ranch Golf Resort is an 18-hole championship golf course that began construction in 1997 and opened to the public in 2000. The multi-million dollar development, overlooking the Columbia River, was designed by and built by Stone Creek Properties, who also built Silver Tip Golf Resort in Canmore, Alberta. Eagle Ranch features a full service clubhouse with pro shop, restaurant, bar and private meeting rooms.
According to Stone Creek Properties, “over the next few years, Eagle Ranch will evolve into a world-class destination resort, its intimate village centre bustling with activity and its boutique shops, restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries and lodge hotel wrapped up in a level of service that’s second to none. A limited number of luxury condominiums and secluded home sites are the finishing touches on this world-class sanctuary.”
An additional source of revenue for the Shuswap Indian Band has been taxation. Under the Indian Act and the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act (FNFSMA) Indigenous governments can impose property tax, income tax, GST and other taxes on reserve.
SIB is one of only 23 bands in Canada and eight in BC (as of 2011) that charge the First Nations Goods and Services Tax (FNGST), a five per cent tax on the same goods and services taxable under the GST/HST. The tax can be levied by Indian Act bands or Indigenous Self-Governments, and applies when a band’s governing body passes its own law imposing FNGST. The Canada Revenue Agency administers the FNGST for First Nations and remittances of FNGST can include a revenue sharing mechanism.
Negotiating the FNGST with Ottawa was a five-year process for SIB. On the reserve, Martin said it was a pretty easy sell for the membership. In the late 1990s, prior to their development projects, Band members purchased almost everything off reserve and were used to paying GST. The Band made the case for GST by comparing the small amount members could save individually by not paying it, to the large amount the Band could receive as a whole by having everyone on reserve, including non-members, developers and businesses, pay GST. Through its FNGST revenue sharing, SIB receives approximately $250,000 annually via GST.
The Band also has property tax laws similar to that of most BC municipalities. The taxes are based on appraisals carried out by BC Assessment, a Provincial Crown corporation.
For each land development project, the Band also creates a dedicated trust fund, which it funds through a land tax imposed on the developer. The strategy is that the trust fund will grow equity throughout the term of the 99-year lease. When the lease expires, the trust fund assets can be shared between the Band and the developer, reinvested in the development, or carried over if the lease is renewed. The trust fund system provides certainty for investors by ensuring their property development will accrue equity over the term of the lease and that they won’t be left with nothing upon the expiry of the lease.
Currently, the Band is exploring bringing in hotel room taxes, which would make it the first Band to do so.
The Band also collects utility fees for water, sewage and garbage from residential and commercial members and non?members, to support ongoing operations, maintenance and system upgrades.
To facilitate new commercial and residential development on its land, the Shuswap Development and Building Department provides what it calls “one-stop shopping” on the KDC website. There, people can find all the information they need regarding issues and topics such as zoning, sewer services, transportation, building codes, application processes, as well as downloaded forms for any applications.
“If you want to do something with KDC you can go online and see all of the process that you have to fill out to start developing on our land,” said Martin. “People like it because they can come into one office and get all this development process taken care of. They’re not running all over the place. It’s very clear.”
To date, the Shuswap Indian Band has used nearly all of 500-acres land designation for commercial, residential and resort development. As the Band looks to develop additional land on reserve, it is simplifying the designation process by developing its own land codes.
The Shuswap Indian Band is also exploring energy projects with BC Hydro, mining opportunities with Teck Resources and Economic and Community Development Agreements with the Province. They consider themselves developers at heart.
The Band’s record of successful business development can, in part, be attributed to the strong partnerships KDC forms with investors, and its focus on ensuring every on-reserve project creates benefits for the investor as well as the Band.