ARCHIVED - Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia: An ISO-certified community

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Through the marriage of indigenous knowledge and modern business practises, the Membertou First Nation has created its own good fortune. See how this ISO-certified community is forging a new path and helping other First Nations follow in their footsteps.

Transcript: Membertou First Nation

Spoken in Mi'kmaq, "This is Membertou. Welcome to our community." "This is Membertou. Welcome to our community."

Membertou is an urban First Nation community on Cape Breton Island, a few kilometres from the heart of Sydney, Nova Scotia.
A place that 800 Mi'kmaq people are proud to call home.

But it wasn't always this way. Membertou had its share of problems, with high unemployment and poverty at the top of the list.

Chief Terrance Paul, in his 23rd year as the elected leader of his people, made it his mission to turn Membertou's fortunes around.

He looked to his own people to make this happen, by bringing back well educated, experienced band members who had left the community and were working elsewhere in Canada, and internationally.

Together, they devised a series of strategies to improve Membertou, always making certain to consult the Elders and incorporate indigenous knowledge, based on the principles of conservation, sustainability of resources and reverence for the land and waters.

"Our language and our culture has always been an important part of our community, so we always include that aspect when we discuss new projects for our community, you know that our, our identity is a very important part of what we do."

One of the first orders of business was to get Membertou's financial house in order. They worked diligently to reduce their deficit, with transparency, accountability and open lines of communication.

Recognizing the importance of partnerships, and with the goal of creating opportunities for the community off-site, Membertou established its corporate headquarters in Halifax in 2000.

"Membertou's corporate office consists of Membertou's Quality Management Services, Geomatics, Research, Fisheries, and Business Development."

By 2002, Membertou earned its International Organization for Standardization certificate, the first Aboriginal government in the world to become ISO certified, and has since then helped other First Nations to do the same.

Even with its success in the corporate world, Membertou did not forget its roots. The research division has plans for a Heritage Park to offer a living history of the people of Membertou, and ensure the preservation of the Mi'kmaq language and culture.

Back in Membertou, several major business developments were started, in an effort to provide employment and lead the community towards self-sufficiency.

One major step was signing an agreement with the province of Nova Scotia, allowing Membertou to operate licensed gaming facilities.

Another major business endeavour was Membertou's Trade and Convention Centre; now a hub for people from all across Cape Breton.

"The Trade and Convention centre is a facility geared primarily to host medium-sized conferences and meetings … we have the Glooscap room which can seat up to 750 people theatre style … we have performers coming in, we also host major conferences for both government and corporations … … we have the Mescalero Steak and Grill, which not only provides dining for the general public, but also provides catering services for all of our functions … we have Ptetroglyphs gift shop … and supporting all this, we have the Membertou Data centre, which provides data storage, data recovery and all of our IT needs here in the community."

Revenue generated from gaming and the Convention Centre was used to develop several new businesses, such as the Membertou Market.

Development in other areas, such as the First Fisherman Company, and encouraging private entrepreneurship is also a priority.

Everywhere you look, people from Membertou First Nation are employed in satisfying jobs, from the lobster fishermen on the seas to the business executives in the Halifax corporate offices.

"If someone really wants to work and they're from Membertou, there is a job for them."

Along with training and employment, the successful business ventures have lead to an increase in new housing construction and improved public works infrastructure throughout Membertou.

Through the will and determination of its people, this reserve has transformed itself into a prosperous self-sustaining community.

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