Almost three decades ago, the Cree Nation of Wemindji band council founded a corporation that quickly became the economic driver of the community. From gas to groceries, one can hardly step foot in the community without being serviced by Tawich Development Corporation (TDC). Although Tawich regularly reports to shareholders at Wemindji’s General Assembly meetings, it became clear over the years that more than a couple of hours were needed to fully showcase this expanding company. So, on March 23-24, the very first Tawich Expo was launched.
Most of the many businesses, entities and partnerships within the TDC were represented at the Expo. There were kiosks for Tawich Construction, Tawich Distribution, Wolf Camp Corporation, Kepa Transport, and VCC General Contractor, to name a few. Many community members who visited the Expo expressed their surprise at how many businesses are under the Tawich wing. In the past three years alone, TDC started up seven new entities, the most recent being Synee Drilling. Many of their subsidiaries are tied to mining projects, such as Goldcorp’s Éléonore Gold Project (also at the Expo).
According to TDC Vice President Danny Tomatuk, these initiatives should be viewed more as springboards rather than end goals. He explained that although Tawich Distribution’s Safety Clothing initiative was dependent on mines, their Hunting Clothing venture is not. “Eventually the mines will disappear,” said Tomatuk. “We’re trying to build Tawich Distribution in a way that we don’t depend on [them].”
Although March 23 started out quiet, as the day progressed, it became clear that Wemindji’s Community Hall was the place to be. “It’s a very positive atmosphere, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves,” said Tawich Chief Operations Officer David Bull.
Already having gained a reputation for their generous door prizes and entertainment, the board was hoping to offer their guests something even more valuable at this event. Judy Coon Come, the Interim Executive Secretary, stated that the event committee’s main focus for the Expo was providing entrepreneurial opportunities for the youth and for any future potential entrepreneurs in the community. They also wanted inform the public about the services and products that Tawich provides.
“We offer grant and loan programs to anyone within the community to start a business,” explained TDC President Tony Gull. To his knowledge, every entrepreneur who ever started a business venture in Wemindji turned to Tawich for support. Not only could community members walk away from this day with full stomachs, a live stand-up Howie Miller experience, and performances by Matthew Iserhoff and Pakesso Mukash, but they could take home the satisfaction of knowing they are shareholders of a corporation whose successes and goals are directly tied to their community’s well-being.
“We need people to run these companies,” Tomatuk insisted. When he retires, someone will have to take his place, and he is hoping the younger generation will see that TDC can offer them ample job opportunities without having to leave their community.
“Nobody seems to know or understand where we’re going,” stated John Mark, one of the original founders of Tawich. Although he had hoped to see more young people show up, Mark agreed that this Expo was a step in the right direction.
When Tommy-Lee Ottereyes, a Secondary 5 student attending Maquatua Eeyou School, wandered into the commotion with his classmates, he was not exactly sure what to expect. “Tawich” was his response when asked if he knew what the Expo was all about.
Although Ottereyes responded that he planned to study business at Algonquin College, saying that Synee Drilling piqued his interest because of the different types of rock and their various applications in our lives.
Could this Expo be the spark that ignites a new entrepreneurial fire in Wemindji?
Only time will tell, but according to Mark, “There’s no better way to learn than to get involved.” Although no one could say if the Expo will become an annual event, everyone agreed that it shouldn’t be the last.