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Award winners represent the best in Indigenous business

PEP Conference celebrated recipients on Jan. 21

Before partnering up with Jacob & Samuel (J&S) Drilling, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek had very little knowledge of the diamond drilling business, according to Brendan Huston, the First Nation’s CEO.

The community, a Huron-Robinson Treaty signatory located about 19 kilometres west of Sudbury, had had some exposure to the mining industry through its partnerships with KGHM, Glencore, Vale, and MacDonald Mines. But diamond drilling was something new.

Enter J&S Drilling. Based just outside of Sudbury, the Indigenous-owned firm, run by Stéphane Cormier and Shannon Bennett, provides exploration drilling and diamond drilling services throughout Canada and North America.

In January 2019, Atikameksheng and J&S signed a joint venture agreement, Bagone’an JS Drilling Inc., giving the community a 51 per cent stake in the partnership, and J&S the remaining minority portion. Shortly afterward, the new entity secured a long-term drilling contract with KGHM.

Over the last several months, the agreement has meant growing opportunities for community members to gain knowledge and employment in the industry.

“We really did benefit from the fact that, through this partnership, we were able to learn a lot about the drilling industry, and being able to meaningfully participate in this industry as well,” Huston said.

Huston’s comments came during an acceptance speech at the gala dinner of the 2020 Procurement Employment Partnerships (PEP) Conference at Ristorante Verdicchio in Sudbury.

Atikameksheng and J&S jointly accepted the Business Partnership of the Year award, which recognizes a partnership that has contributed to the well-being of the area, developed training and employment opportunities for Indigenous people and businesses, and shown commitment to the community in which they operate.

Huston said receiving the award was a “milestone” in Atikameksheng’s relationship with J&S, and “we look forward to continue this forward, helping to build capacity in the community and contribute to meaningful economic development as well.”

Shannon Bennett, chief financial officer at J&S, said the agreement marked a long-term partnership for the two parties.

“I expect to be around and working in the area for quite a bit in the drilling industry with these guys, so this is a good partnership,” she said.

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The award was one of three presented during the gala dinner, which was hosted by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and catered by Chef Rich Francis, a Haudenosaunee/Tetlit Gwich'in chef from Six Nations of the Grand River who also served as the evening’s keynote speaker.

The Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year award was presented to Hiawatha Osawamick, a Red Seal chef and owner of Hiawatha’s Catering.

Though she’s been in the catering business for a decade, Osawamick, who has roots in Wiikwemkoong and Wahnapitae, is planning to open her own restaurant in Sudbury this spring – the city’s first eatery to focus on Indigenous cuisine.

“I’ve always dreamed of sharing my cuisine with the world; I’ve travelled across Canada and the U.S. showcasing my delicious creations,” Osawamick said.

“Now my food has a home. Good food, good medicine. My eatery is a place for sharing, caring and loving. I encourage you all to love my eatery as much as I do.”

Waubetek Business Development Corp. received the Indigenous Enterprise of the Year award for its 30-year track record in providing Indigenous entrepreneurs across northeastern Ontario with financial assistance and economic development resources to help start and grow their businesses.

Over the last three decades, noted Jason Peltier, Waubetek’s manager of business services, the organization has provided investments of more than $7 million and helped more than 3,000 entrepreneurs.

“We’re humbled and grateful for this award, but we really feel like it wouldn’t be possible without the businesses in the region that we’ve supported,” Peltier said.

“They’ve had the idea, they’ve made a strong business case, and with our investment, they were able to create meaningful jobs in the community and bring needed goods and services in those communities.”

This marked the third year for the annual PEP Conference, whose objective is to seek out ways to build industry-wide supply chain management, address the shortage of skilled labour, and build relationships between industry and Indigenous communities.

It wrapped up on Jan. 22.