The Me’ le’ xelh Mustimuhw (Malahat Nation) are building an impressive portfolio as they fulfill a community mandate of sustainable prosperity for their members.
Q+A with Malahat Nation
Led by Chief George Harry, the Malahat Nation is a member government of the Naut’sa mawt Tribal Council, and their ancestor tongue is the Hulquminum language. They reside on their traditional lands near Mill Bay, Goldstream and the Highlands, and recently signed an Incremental Treaty Agreement transferring the Shawnigan Lands back to their people.
Among the Nation’s recent business successes: the years-long vision and partnership with A.Spire By Nature, which came to fruition this past summer when the Malahat Skywalk opened to the public. The tourism attraction is expected to bring millions of visitors to its outdoor experience every year, and it celebrates not only the natural world around it but also the Nation’s art, culture and people. They’re also working on building a world class film studio on their lands, an 80-acre project that will also include an industrial park, 120-room hotel, shopping village and technical academy for film apprenticeships and skills training.
This in addition to their 55-acre business park, home to several Indigenous-owned companies, and their recent completion of solar energy installation in their multipurpose centre and Kwunew Kwasun community building. They’ve been a member of SIPP since 2019.
Angela van den Hout is the Director of Economic Development at the Malahat Nation. She tells us how they leverage smart business growth for community prosperity.
Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?
Malahat is in the beginning phases of multi-year large-scale economic development planning. Alliances in key areas are vital to our success and long-term sustainability, and SIPP’s mandate to support collaboration in the economic development space aligns strongly with Malahat’s strategic plan.
What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?
Tourism – raise the bar and develop unique, one-of-a-kind tourism experiences like no other.
Localizing economic structure – developing the local economy instead of supporting remote, or global businesses. Businesses need to be resilient, and that means the ability to support ourselves and each other on a small scale, with limited reliance outside of the local economy. Food production and processing, water and waste management, natural resources management and processing, etc., the economic opportunity in this region is extensive and can be largely leveraged to support local security, regardless of the state of the global markets.
What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?
This is an incredibly beautiful place to live and work, and the combination of natural beauty, access to products and services, affordability in comparison to other urban markets, and diversity of jobs available is highly appealing. We can work hard, but weekends truly feel like weekends in this beautiful space.
What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?
Overarching all of Malahat’s success is the resilience of the Malahat people. The community can be proud of the large-scale projects completed and on the horizon, from the recent opening of the Malahat Skywalk to the future development of a world class film studio, large marine development, and innovative business park.
What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?
The members of the Malahat Nation come first. We only ever pursue projects which are certain to improve the quality of life for the members of the Malahat Nation and align with its plans to protect the environment and support community members – this foundational pursuit is what drives our economic strategy.
What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?
Reconciliation through business activities involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous partnerships. Many groups come at us with their perception or assumption of what will constitute a successful partnership. This is not genuine collaboration. A partnership starts with openness to learning, and asking questions.
We believe that most organizations within the region are keen on supporting Indigenous Reconciliation, however may not have the resources or tools to determine an effective strategy to achieve this. The appropriate approach differs greatly between Indigenous groups. Malahat is committed to working collaboratively with all of our partners on a genuinely cooperative strategy towards a mutually beneficial partnership.
What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?
The need for self-sufficiency. As resources around the area became scarce and services shut down it became ever more important for Malahat to look internally to provide for our membership. At the same time it highlighted the value and importance of our neighbors and partners in working together to solve local issues such as helping people with housing and food security. Based on this experience the local appetite for supporting local security is apparent and we should collaboratively continue to build on this momentum.
When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?
We envision increased collaboration among community groups, symbiotic business relationships, increased security and well-being for residents, increased use of local resources, and support for new and expanding markets (food processing, seaweed harvesting, tourism, forestry and wood fabrication/processing, film and tv). Rather than coming for a weekend, families and tourists will need to visit for a week to take in just a sample of what the South Island has to offer as a major travel destination in North America. Locals will thrive in the region – strong communities, a strong economy, and access to the best of both urban and island lifestyles.