North Spirit Lake First Nation member wins award from Project Beyshick

NAN press release ....

NAN Member Receives Business Award

THUNDER BAY, ON, Feb. 28 - Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler together with Minister for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Harinder Takhar, POA Educational Foundation Chairman Aditya Jha, and Nishnawbe Aski Development Fund (NADF) president Harvey Yesno, awarded contest winner Darcy Kejick with $15,000 toward a business plan during an awards event today at Queen's Park.

Darcy Kejick from North Spirit Lake First Nation (one of NAN's 49 Ontario First Nation communities) received the award for a business plan submitted following his participation in Project Beyshick 2006 - an annual one week youth job-shadowing program focused on entrepreneurship among First Nation youth.

The inaugural award recognizes the participant who prepares the most feasible professional business or career plan.

"A quite intensive schedule was prepared for me to spend my time within the various areas of the bank, job-shadowing and meeting important people who work in each area," said Kejick who job-shadowed HSBC Senior Vice President Geoff Hoy August 2006. "The program is a real eye-opener if you're interested in venturing into the world of business or even if you're curious about it."

Kejick's business plan for "North Spirit Foods" - a grocery store in his First Nation community located northwest of Sioux Lookout - was one of 10 submitted by Project Beyshick 2006 participants.

"The grocery store will provide North Spirit Lake First Nation with all grocery needs, including the much needed diet of dairy and fresh produce," said Kejick. "The store will also meet the needs of those individuals with special dietary needs, diabetes for example."

Kejick expects building materials to arrive in North Spirit Lake mid March via winter road and building will begin this Spring.

Project Beyshick was developed by POA Educational Foundation and Nishnawbe Aski Nation in 2005. NAN youth are partnered with Toronto business executives in their area of interest - job-shadowing for one week learning through mentorship and being part of the staff.

Some of the businesses involved in the past two years include FedEx, TV Ontario, Globe and Mail, HSBC, Trillium Hospital, Canada Trust, ICICI Bank, Bell Canada, GlobalMaxx Technologies, and AMJ Campbell Van Lines.

"Project Beyshick has been an important step in promoting business skills among the NAN youth who've taken part, but it doesn't end there. The youth who've taken part in the job-shadowing program in the past two years are the best examples of the program and its benefits," said NAN Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. "The recognition of Darcy's business plan and the option for other candidates to pursue other support to develop their business plans, are perfect examples of how this experience can open up realistic opportunities for success at the community level."

"Project Beyshick serves as a platform for success in that it helps to enhance leaders with the training and financial backing to succeed," said POA Chairman Aditya Jha. "This inaugural award brings us closer to our vision of a social venture fund for First Nation people."

Nishnawbe Aski Nation is an Aboriginal political organization representing 49 First Nation communities within James Bay Treaty 9 and Ontario First Nations part of Treaty 5 - an area spanning two-thirds of Ontario with a total approximate population of 45,000 members on and off reserve.

POA Educational Foundation is a charitable foundation aiming to provide support for educational and entrepreneurial initiatives that target regions with specific challenges and pressing needs.

For further information: Jenna Young, Director of Communications, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, (807) 625-4952, (807) 628-3953 (cellular); Lee Arbon, Hyperactive Communications, (905) 278-5500 ext. 225


From the Toronto Star ...

Native entrepreneur tries food for thought - Winning business plan pits produce against rampant diabetes

Mar 08, 2007 - Prithi Yelaja - Staff Reporter

Fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce commodities in the remote northern community Darcy Kejick calls home.

The lack of healthy food choices, along with a lack of exercise, help explain why diabetes is rampant in North Spirit Lake, a tiny Nishnawbe Aski Nation community about 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

That's why Kejick plans to use the $15,000 prize he collected as the winner of a business plan competition – sponsored by a South Asian entrepreneur in Toronto – to open a new grocery store in his hometown of about 300. His store would be stocked with fresh produce, dairy, bread and organic products, all to encourage fellow residents to eat healthier.

The number of people with diabetes in Ontario doubled between 1995 and 2005. Aboriginal people are among those at highest risk because of diet and lifestyle, according to a new Toronto study.

Kejick, 34, knows this first-hand.

"I'm a diabetic myself. You could say it's an epidemic on the reserve, so I'm just trying to do my part to curb the problem," says Kejick, whose parents are also both diabetic.

For 10 months of the year, fresh produce has to be flown in from Red Lake, near the Manitoba border. The lack of a store with adequate refrigeration and cooling facilities in North Spirit Lake means those supplies go fast.

Of the two existing stores, one is run out of someone's bedroom, the other is "more like a shed," says Kejick.

"Both tend to stock a lot of junk food and stuff you can store for a long time, like canned items or stuff you can throw in the microwave and heat up fast." Frozen french fries are a big seller.

Kejick picked up his award, sponsored by the POA Educational Foundation, at an elegant high-tea ceremony at Queen's Park this week.

"The only route for First Nations people to achieve prosperity is entrepreneurship," says Aditya Jha, 50, the Toronto businessman who started the foundation along with his two partners, who prefer to stay out of the limelight, as a way to uplift aboriginal people. (POA represents the initials of the partners' first names.)

"If I can do it, they can do it. In Canada, no community gets respect until they make money in a mainstream business," says the straight-talking Jha.

He should know. He immigrated to Canada from India via Singapore in 1994 and became a multi-millionaire when he and his partners sold their software company to Sun Microsystems in 2001, for a reported $100 million (U.S.)

Jha was alerted to the plight of Canada's aboriginal people when he heard Stan Beardy, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, speak at a black tie dinner in 2005.

Since then, the foundation has created a $100,000 endowment fund at Trent University for aboriginal students.

He has also announced plans to raise $5 million to establish an "incubation centre" at Ryerson University to foster aboriginal entrepreneurship, and kick-started it with his own $500,000 donation.

Kejick was part of a mentoring program, Project Beyshick, now in its third year, which pairs a dozen or more native people with senior executives at large Toronto companies. Participants in that program were eligible to take part in the business plan competition.

For a week last summer, Kejick job-shadowed Geoff Hoy, a senior vice-president at HSBC Bank in Toronto.

Kejick's new store, next to the gas station he operates in North Spirit Lake, is slated to be open for business by September, with the help of a bank loan.

"He's already a successful guy, so he'll do well," says Jha. "The promised land is here for him to grab."