First Nation in northern Ontario in running for national community award

By Sam Laskaris
Cando Writer

Red Rock Indian BandSmall but mighty.

That’s certainly an apt description for the Red Rock Indian Band, located in northwestern Ontario.

The First Nation’s main community of Lake Helen, located about 120 kilometres east of Thunder Bay, has less than 300 of its estimated 2,300 members living on reserve.

Yet Red Rock Indian Band is viewed as a role model amongst other northern First Nations in the province.

“In this region Red Rock Indian Band is a leader economically and in the business world,” said Marcus Hardy, who has served as the chief of the First Nation since 2019. “We want everyone to move ahead with us.”

Red Rock Indian Band is also being thrust into the national spotlight this year. That’s because the First Nation is one of two finalists for the 2023 Cando community of the year award.

Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba is the other finalist.

The winner will be announced at this year’s Cando Conference, which runs from June 26-29 in Membertou, N.S.

Two other national awards will also be presented at the four-day conference.

There are two finalists in the running for the Economic Developer of the Year award and a pair of companies vying to win the Indigenous Private Sector Business category.

Hardy is understandably thrilled his First Nation has the opportunity to garner national recognition.

“I think it’s a testament to the hard work and the dedication of the staff,” Hardy said.

And it’s not as if Red Rock Indian Band has just one or two noteworthy projects that led to the First Nation being a finalist for a Cando award.

“There’s so much on the go,” Hardy said.

For example, earlier this year Red Rock Indian Band made its share of headlines when it was announced it had reached an agreement with the BMI Group to open a heavy-cargo port.

The deal means the First Nation will become a major transportation hub as shipping lanes will connect it to Lake Superior.

“We have the capacity, our people have the capability, and we want to make them shine,” Hardy said of the deal which will tremendously benefit the First Nation’s residents. “We want to give people a good life.”

Red Rock had previously been known as a timber and mill community.

In recent years, that has changed. It now has various ventures including a gas station, plumbing and heating business, forestry operations, real estate rentals and various contracts with Ontario’s ministry of transportation.

The First Nation also has various partnerships with rock crushing, mining and drilling companies.

One of Red Rock Indian Band’s successful businesses these days is the Chalet Lodge. The First Nation bought the facility, which had been vacant for a number of years, in 2009.

“It is a historical building by the railway built in the early 1900s,” Hardy said. “We decided to purchase it and revitalize it. We spent quite a lot of money on it. But we had to wait for the land to become reserve land. It was private land all my life beside our reserve.”

It took until 2017 for the building to officially become reserve property. The 3,500-square foot lodge includes six cabins as well as space for meetings, conference, weddings and a number of other events.

The Chalet Lodge also provides the First Nation opportunities to promote its Anishinaabe culture, history and life through various educational and training opportunities.

Plans are also in the works to expand the lodge to include a butcher shop and tannery.

The First Nation has also developed an economic development strategic plan that will work toward economic self-sufficiency.

Part of its economic development vision statement reads as follows: “Red Rock Indian Band envisions a future where economic opportunities are enabled, providing long-lasting measurable benefits to community members and the First Nation.”