The number of successful, thriving Indigenous businesses that got their start connected to the resource sector is growing at an exciting rate. In our work with Indigenous nations from coast to coast to coast, we have encountered many inspiring examples. Four of these dynamic businesses - along with a mining producer and the First Nation they have recently struck a novel agreement with - have agreed to share their stories this year in a session at the PDAC (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada) Indigenous Program. Read all about the session here:
In the lead-up to the March 1-4th conference in Toronto, we are profiling each of these businesses in a blog series. Guest authors from each business have graciously shared their company stories. Today’s feature is Moccasin Trails.
Guest Author/PDAC panelist: Marsha Smoke, President
Moccasin Trails is a First Nations access management company that provides engineered access matting solutions for construction sites. Matting is designed for the protection of the environment, for work platforms and areas where terrain is difficult to access, where muskeg and water crossings exist, and for use on private or agricultural lands.
Moccasin Trails - A First Nation Access Solutions Company
Moccasin Trails is a 100% First Nation family owned business led by myself, Marsha Smoke from the Mississauga Nation at Alderville, Ontario. In 2012, as I was making the transition to leave Ottawa to move back to my home community, I began receiving calls to join a company based out of Quebec who wanted to work with First Nations. After a couple of years, I finally realized this person wasn’t going to go away and agreed to meet.
Industrial matting and temporary bridges are products used in the construction industry and are not something that First Nations have much familiarity with. It took some time to learn the industry and figure out how selling mats could benefit First Nations. After having spent my entire life advocating that development on First Nations homelands had to see benefits going to local communities, the challenge was to create a business model that would resonate with First Nations.
My team and I had to understand the purchasing process on major construction projects. Purchasing is done by the general contractor’s supply chain department, which results in little or no contact between First Nations communities and the suppliers. With no direct contact, most vendors feel no obligation to support local communities or "give back" to First Nations communities. Moccasin Trails' business model is changing that. The business model we developed was ready to be introduced to First Nations and in 2017, Moccasin Trails was incorporated and ready to fly under its own banner.
Matting is widely used for access roads, right of ways and work sites for mines, transmission lines and pipelines. Mats are also used to build and maintain transmission lines; for integrity work on pipelines; for all season roads, winter roads and other infrastructure projects. Mats are a means of supporting heavy equipment on rough terrain, working in wetlands, waterways, ditches, gullies and other difficult terrain. The use of mats provides protection to environmentally sensitive areas.
Offering a “turn-key” solution to projects is the lucrative part of matting. Selling a mat is highly competitive and bids are often driven down by those companies who manufacture their own mats. They drive the price down but enhance their earnings by offering a turn-key solution that includes the installation and removal of the mats on the construction right of ways. In these cases, mainstream companies bring in their own employees, their own equipment and management personnel, while offering training for temporary and short-term labourer jobs to First Nations.
Moccasin Trails decided to turn this part of the matting industry around for the benefit of First Nations. Our business model creates a synergy by identifying Indigenous construction companies to join us in bidding on projects and demonstrating that we truly are an Indigenous-led initiative. These Indigenous businesses are already committed to hiring First Nations and have experience working with local communities. Moccasin Trails would rather see those profits and benefits going to First Nations rather than equity companies or shareholders of a corporation that will never set foot in our communities.
To further enhance First Nations opportunities, we are seeking out First Nation businesses in the forestry industry who may be willing to manufacture mats as a part of their operations. We would identify the type of mats that can be manufactured with the available fibre in their areas and would buy up the mats that they produce for our projects.
Moccasin Trails works with integrity and respect. We will speak the truth to First Nations and unfortunately, exposing these types of trade secrets in the matting industry creates more obstacles to doing business. We have had to endure misinformation about our company, threats of court action to try to put us out of business and unfair business practices influenced through “the old boy’s network” that is still prominent in the matting industry today. The reality is that these kinds of tactics only make First Nations stronger and more determined.
Moccasin Trails is in a unique position. We have found ourselves in an industry where we may be the only 100% First Nation-owned matting company in Canada and the USA. We want to work with First Nations. We want to work with industry. We want to build relationships. Moccasin Trails is not here to take work away from anyone, we want to do a good job and see benefits going to local communities.
At Moccasin Trails, we are guided by the wisdom of our Family Elder-WWII Veteran and other respected Elders and Leaders.
We look forward to the valuable contribution that Moccasin Trails will bring to the discussion in March at PDAC.
#PDAC Blog Series: Sharing Business Success Stories
If you aren't coming to PDAC this year, never fear: In the lead-up to the March 1-4th conference, we are profiling each of these businesses in a blog series. Guest authors from each business have graciously shared their company stories.
Here's the full list of participants for the PDAC panel with links to their awesome businesses. Stay tuned for the next instalment!
- Jordan Baptiste, Director, Business Development
- Ginny Michano, President, Pawgwasheeng Economic Development Corporation
- Robert Starr, Business Project Manager, Supercom Industries
- Marsha Smoke, President, Moccasin Trails
- Alexandre Meterissian, Vice-President Government Affairs, Blackrock Metals
- Chief Curtis Bosum, Ouje-Bougoumou Cree Nation
- Facilitators: Laura Taylor, SVS and Harvey Sands, Richter
Read the other blogs in this series:
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About Us: Shared Value Solutions
We are an Canadian B Corp, and we assist Indigenous communities with support throughout regulatory processes surrounding major development projects like mines, hydroelectric facilities, transmission lines, highway expansions, oil and gas pipelines, natural resource transport applications and nuclear power.
We have deep context and experience behind the recommendations we provide, having worked for our clients on almost every major project in Canada over the last 10 years. For us, it’s all about building long-term relationships with our clients. We want to get to know you and what you want to do so we can help you move your plans forward.
- Reviews of Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements
- First Nation Land Code communities
- Indigenous Guardian programs
- Impact Benefit Agreements: technical and regulatory support for negotiations
- Indigenous Jurisdiction initiatives: joint management agreements and co-management agreements
- Community-based Indigenous environmental monitoring
- Indigenous Land Use Planning
- Participant funding negotiation and application support
- Multimedia Storytelling