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Managing prosperity, not poverty

Tsartlip First Nation breaks ground on gas station with an eye on economic development
Simon Smith Sr. and Tsartlip First Nation Chief Don Tom share a laugh during the April 8 ground breaking ceremony at the community’s gas station project on Stelly’s X Road.

Ground has been turned on a new gas station and convenience store project at the Tsartlip First Nation in Central Saanich, something community members hope will lead to new prosperity.

“It’s the dream of my people that have gotten us to this point today to manage wealth, instead of managing poverty,” said Tsartlip band councillor Will Morris.

On April 8, Chief Don Tom and other community leaders gathered at the site of the project along Stelly’s X Road, next to the Saanich Fairground, to offer up prayers and songs and to witness the start of something new.

Tom, elected Chief in December, said it was the work of his community and its council since 1990 to get the land and set in motion plans for the gas station.

“The council has worked hard to seek more prosperity,” he said, “and they have found new economic development opportunities.

“It’s a proud moment to be standing here. This is the legacy of all of (the council’s) hard work.”

Previous chief and council, Tom explained, had been working on the project for years, after members of his community fought to obtain the land.

“Prior to the land coming back to Tsartlip, others had wanted to use it for other things and that didn’t sit well with our elders. Elders and young people occupied the land and ... made many sacrifices in oder to ensure the land was here for us to use.”

Tom said the current  council has set the goal of completing the construction 100 days from Tuesday’s groundbreaking.

The contractor hired has a mandate to use labour from the Tsartlip community, he said. Once complete, Tom said the gas station will provide up to 12 jobs.

“Tsartlip has been working towards economic development for a number of years,” Tom continued. “We have had the campsite and now we have the gas station. We really feel this is our foot in the door to get things started.”

With other First Nations development projects on the Saanich Peninsula underway, such as the Jesken Town Centre commercial site at the Tsawout First Nation, Tom said he’s happy his community will be a part of that progress.

The gas station will be a specific brand which will be announced when the store is officailly opened.

“We see this as our first opportunity. Yet having economic development like this can be seen as difficult for some community members when it comes to use of land.

“Land is scarce and when we have a growing population, we might not have the land to house people.”

Tom said the Tsartlip First Nation is the largest band in the south Island with a population of around 1,100. He said it’s important to have this kind of economic development to provide jobs and a business foundation for the growing community.