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This past fall, George E. Lafond left his post at the Tribal Council and STC members voted in the new Tribal Chief - Glen Johnstone, from the Mistawasis First Nation. Johnstone is new to politics; he was the Director of Health and Social Development for Mistawasis before the election.
"I intend to focus on representing all seven of the First Nations equally, and try to create a leaner and more efficient Tribal Council;" says Tribal Chief Johnstone.
The Tribal Council has evolved into five distinct corporations, in order to facilitate effective delivery of programs and services. Together, they employ a staff of approximately 150 in Saskatoon Tribal Council Inc., Cress Housing Corporation, Saskatoon Development Corporation, Urban First Nations Services Inc. and Family Services Inc. The STC is known for its ability to build partnership-based initiatives such as the Super Saturday Program Employer Circles and the White Buffalo Youth Lodge.
"We have a young population, energetic, educated people that are raring to go. It is a good time now to go forward with and continue the partnerships already started. We have seen real successes with partnerships such as the Employer Circle."
The Employer Circle program partners with FSIN and the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority to increase Aboriginal employment and orientate employers to First Nation culture.
"It is better to work together. By helping each other, it builds good relations within the community. After all, we all have to learn live together," Chief Johnstone says.
In an effort to provide was created to provide inner-city youth a safe and friendly community gathering essential services to Saskatoon's urban First Nation population, the Tribal Council has developed STC First Nation Urban Services Inc.The White Buffalo Youth Lodge operates through the service. It was created to provide inner-city youth a safe and friendly commmunity gathering
Tribal Chief - Glen Johnstone
place, with a full spectrum of free services essential for complete health and wellness.
"There is a need for help for our people living in the city. More of our people are moving to the city because of housing and employment. Some of our Bands are opening urban offices to focus more attention on their off-reserve members."
Other urban services provided by the STC focus on employment, career counseling, wellness, and housing programs specific to the needs of Saskatoon's urban aboriginal population. STC has been in the center of Saskatoon's casino expansion debate. The Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) and STC are proposing a destination casino development in downtown Saskatoon. STC is the Project Developer and SIGA would operate the casino on the Tribal Council's behalf. This destination casino would replace the existing Emerald Casino located on the Prairieland Exhibition grounds. The STC proposal is facing strong opposition from a group called the Citizen Against Gaming Expansion in Saskatoon (CAGES).
"They (CAGES) included the word 'expansion', because what it meant was now they could justify protesting our proposal without having to commit themselves to act against the existing Emerald Casino."
The cost of the casino development would be roughly $63 million. It would create 700 new jobs and generate more than $16 million annually in taxes for the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.
"There aren't a lot of big opportunities to create jobs. There are a lot of small ventures like restaurants, but nothing of this magnitude. I know that gaming has it problems, but we are not debating gaming," says Johnstone.
Several STC members are moving ahead with developments of their own, such as the Muskeg Lake First Nation. They established Saskatchewan's first urban reserve in the Sutherland district in 1988. Today, the Asimakaniseekan Askiy Reserve is home to many First Nation businesses. The Yellow Quill First Nation owns property in downtown Saskatoon and is awaiting reserve status. Another progressive STC member is the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Whitecap's newest project development is the Dakota Dune Golf Club, scheduled to begin operation this year.
Like many First Nation organizations across Canada, STC and Tribal Chief Johnstone feel the uncertainness of the future.
"Nationally, all the Tribal Councils are under scrutiny with the Provincial/Territorial Organization (PTO) Review. That is a major challenge we are dealing with, because there are a lot of jobs and services involved. But I think that STC is a really strong organization and well run. I think we're doing what we should be doing."
Tribal Chief Johnstone is looking forward to the election of a new Vice-Chief, who will aid in the challenges of running STC. That election takes place in April of this year.