Cree Nation in Manitoba named community of the year at national conference
By Sam Laskaris
Things are not perfect in Norway House Cree Nation.
But there’s no denying things are getting better for one of the largest First Nations in Manitoba.
“Norway House has strong leadership, engaged staff and is on an upward trajectory for achieving major economic development success,” said Larson Anderson, who has served as the chief for the First Nation since 2018.
Norway House has had its share of successes under Anderson’s leadership. But he is not entirely content.
Anderson said a former premier had asked him what his proudest accomplishment has been.
“I said I was not proud of what I had done because we still had members that were unemployed and we still had some members that were homeless,” Anderson said.
Norway House Cree Nation has about 8,700 members in total with about 6,500 of them living on reserve.
The First Nation was also thrust into the national spotlight this year. That’s because it captured a prestigious award, being selected as the Community of the Year during a ceremony staged at the Cando Conference.
That event, in late June, was held in Membertou, N.S.
“It’s a very big honour,” Anderson said of the Cando award. “You’re always doing a lot of hard work and you rarely get recognized for it.”
The other finalist in the Community of the Year category was the Red Rock Indian Band, which is located about 120 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, in northwestern Ontario.
Two other awards were also presented at the Cando Conference.
James Stevens of Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia was selected as the Economic Developer of the Year. And Bayside Development Corporation, out of Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation in Nova Scotia, was the winner in the Indigenous Private Sector Business category.
Yes, capturing a national award put Norway House Cree Nation in a positive light.
But another major reason why the future of Anderson’s First Nation is looking bright is because it now has a detailed economic plan, approved by council in April of 2023.
“We didn’t have an action plan on how we could get more community members into business,” Anderson said. “Now we’ve got the finalized version of our economic development strategy.”
Norway House Cree Nation had hired one of its own members, Rob Campbell, to spearhead the development of an economic development plan.
Campbell is also the national director as well as a provincial director for Indigenous services for MNP, one of Canada’s largest full-service chartered professional accountancy and business advisory companies.
Campbell worked with Norway House Cree Nation representatives to finalize an economic development plan.
Even though the economic developed strategy is now complete, Anderson said Campbell will remain an advisor for the First Nation as it moves forward.
“It’s onward and upward,” Anderson said after Norway House’s national award win. “We’re just starting off on our big economic development plan.”
One project Anderson is rather pumped up about is a high-speed fibre optic infrastructure project that the First Nation has undertaken.
“That is going to set the stage for a better future,” he said.
Anderson added having faster and better connectivity on the First Nation will be beneficial for all. He also believes some members will be able to conduct all of their work at home instead of leaving the reserve.
Another major accomplishment for the community was securing the funding to build the Norway House Cree Nation Health Centre of Excellence, the largest hospital on a First Nation in Canada.
And Norway House Cree Nation also has some other major projects on the horizon. These plans
include building a new school as well as a new business centre.
Officials with the First Nation are also keen to purchase some heavy equipment, improve community infrastructure and expand the York Boat Inn, located in the community.
A diner at the inn has already reopened to provide another culinary option for community members.
This year actually marked the second time that Norway House Cree Nation has captured Cando’s Community of the Year Award.
It first received the accolade more than two decades ago, back in 2001.
Anderson had served as a councillor for the First Nation from 1994-98 and he believes he was instrumental in various projects then that led Norway House to garnering the national community award a few years later.
Anderson is also obviously pleased his First Nation was singled out again.
“Norway House is being seen as a leader now,” he said. “It brings us out into the open.”