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Indigenous drone company eyes Mississauga First Nation for hub

Sky Canoe wants to make north shore community an operations hub for its remotely-piloted, long-range cargo aircraft
Sky Canoe has been producing remotely piloted, zero-emissions light cargo aircraft out of its headquarters in Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation since its inception in 2018.

An Indigenous company that’s in the business of producing remotely piloted, zero-emission light cargo aircraft to ship goods to rural and remote communities is pitching a partnership with a First Nation on Lake Huron’s north shore that would see the small community become a northern logistics hub for its operations.  

Sky Canoe — an Indigenous-owned company led by Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation in southern Ontario — held a pair of community information sessions in Mississauga First Nation last week to inform band members of the proposal that’s currently on the table. 

The company’s president and chairman, Jason Dudek, says a letter of intent has already been signed between both parties, and a pilot project could be rolled out in the First Nation some time in 2023.      

“The idea right now is to do a pilot project, demonstrate ourselves to the community — and as long as the community is continuing behind us, we’ll proceed,” said Dudek. “But obviously we’re there to serve the community and be guided by them, and that’s the defining characteristic of our engagement.”

Sky Canoe has so far produced 11 of its remotely piloted aircraft, which has attracted interest from oil companies and other businesses since the company's inception in 2018. 

While five of its builds were strictly prototypes, the remaining six have all been sold within the past two years. 

Now, the company wants to expand its footprint by making Mississauga First Nation — a community approximately 140 kilometres east of Sault Ste. Marie with 378 people living on reserve — its base of operations in the North. 

“Honestly, we could be continuing to focus on just selling as much as possible, but our commitment to Mississauga First Nation is really primary right now,” said Dudek. “It’s our main focus as a company that we make this pilot project happen and make sure Sky Canoe is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, which is improving the lives, food security and economic development of remote communities by reducing cargo costs,” he said.

Dudek says Sky Canoe’s electric, long-range aircraft is built from the ground up in Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation with a goal to deliver goods to rural and remote communities safely and efficiently at 75 per cent less cost. 

“When you take the pilot and the fuel out of the equation, obviously, as you can imagine, it drives down the costs,” he said. “But the silver lining on that, too, is that we’re zero emissions, so it’s a great product for the future of Canada’s economy where we really need to transition to the low-carbon economy.”

Four full-time jobs could be made available to members of Mississauga First Nation as part of the proposed pilot project.  

“We’re not offering a huge quantity of jobs, but the jobs we’re creating are really exciting, well-paying, high-quality jobs,” said Dudek. “We’re actually in the business of attracting some of the youth that have migrated down to Toronto looking for opportunities in the cutting-edge sector type of stuff to come back to the community.”

Dudek credits Mississauga First Nation for having an “outstanding team” to work with while Sky Canoe works to get the pilot project for its northern logistics hub off the ground.  

“The team there is really visionary," he said. "They have a really, really good grasp on where they want to go as a community, and that actually really helps businesses like us engage with them."  

Mississauga First Nation Chief Bob Chiblow could not be reached for comment.

— SooToday