How business-savvy are Ktunaxa entrepreneurs? The creator of Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. explains

Corrie Walkley is a Ktunaxa citizen, three-term elected councillor, and chair of Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd.

by Kerry Shellborn and Kyle Born
Corrie Walkley stands, arms folded in a boardroom in front of a wooden sign with the Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. logo.

“We’re mandated here at KEL for two priorities: profitability and to collaborate and complement with community business.” — Corrie Walkley — Photo by Kerry Shellborn

Ktunaxa entrepreneurs may seem rare, but they’re working behind the scenes to create something worthwhile just like every other Kootenay business person. One of the main factors that separates Ktunaxa entrepreneurs from their peers is their unique history and experience that they can draw upon. After all, who else can say their great-grandmother was born in a teepee south of Jaffray at Baynes Lake on November 29, 1900, Corrie Walkley, that’s who. Walkley is a Ktunaxa citizen, three-term elected councillor, and chair of Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. (KEL).

“Business is really new to Ktunaxa,” Walkley said. “For example, in 1998, I incorporated my first business and I was the first individual entrepreneur in my community. The more we practice at this (business), the better we’ll get at it.”

If it’s true that practice makes progress, then Walkley has used his decades of experience wisely in advancing the business aims of Ktunaxa by creating KEL.

“I see KEL as the way my people will reach their financial and economic goals—to create their destiny,” said Walkley. “I see that this business has the ability—as long as its owners advocate for it, champion it, support it and don’t compete against it—I can see the sky’s the absolute limit. I have been incrementally involved in this since it was thought, to a concept, to operationalized, to its investment, to the first day of business—moving on to right here.”

To understand what KEL is and how it improves the lives of the Ktunaxa and everyone else within the Kootenays, it’s helpful to highlight the various groups involved and illustrate how they interact with one another.

Graphic showing relationship between different companies and organizations.

Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. is equally owned by five entities and currently oversees three separate businesses: Kettle River Contracting, Nupqu Resource Limited Partnership, and ?amak?is Transport Ltd.

How Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. is structured

Firstly, there’s the Ktunaxa Nation, which comprises four communities, each with a chief and council. These leaders govern the Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC), consisting of 20 elected representatives who oversee five sectors: land, social, economic and investment, education and employment, and traditional knowledge.

As far as commerce is concerned, Ktunaxa Holdings Limited Partnership (KHLP) is the Limited Partner and Ktunaxa Enterprises Limited (KEL) is the General Partner (GP) that runs the limited partnership. KHLP was a special project that was created to bolster the economy with investment opportunities.

“We first came up with the KEL idea in about 2016 when the KNC solidified the Impact Management Benefit Agreement with Teck,” Walkley said. “There were all these opportunities but we didn’t have a proper place to park it and we wanted to make sure it was fair and equitable—nobody got left behind. KEL addresses industry confusion and it also addresses internal competition. Each community has its own economic development department and KEL is the centralized one. Each one of the communities is an owner of this business and the Nation is an owner of this business, but then they also run their own businesses.”

Why was Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. established?

With the KHLP established and KEL functioning as its general partner, these entities are able to manage economic opportunities arising from titles and rights in unceded territory. KHLP and KEL aim to separate business from politics, ensuring equitable access to economic development opportunities for all communities.

“Another reason we created this KEL structure is it allows the autonomy for the business to function and flourish at the speed of business because governments do not move at the speed of business,” said Walkley. “Business needs that autonomy and jurisdiction and authority.”

Group of firefighters, b&w photo.

Ktunaxa Enterprises Ltd. employs up to 400 people during peak construction season and generates close to $60 million in business. — Photo courtesy

KEL’s success is attributed to its autonomy and agility, enabling it to grow rapidly. In just four years, KEL expanded from a two million dollar investment to managing three subsidiary companies involved in extraction and construction, employing up to 400 people during peak construction season and generating around $60 million in business. KEL collaborates with major companies like TECK, BC Hydro, and Fortis.

“We created KEL, specifically, when the Nation entered into the Impact Management Benefit Agreement with TECK Coal in the Elk Valley,” Walkley said. “There was a procurement section within that agreement and there were all these business opportunities. And yet, there wasn’t really a proper place to park those opportunities separating business from politics because KNC is a political/governing body—it’s about government, it’s not about business. We chose to create this all-inclusive business (KHLP) because all these opportunities really flowed out of titles and rights. And titles and rights for a non-treaty First Nation on unceded territory—those rights flow from the collective. The buck stops at litigation and proven title. Our territory in the East/West Kootenay and Columbia is unceded territory. So, we wanted a collective business. What that does is separate business from politics.”

Looking to the future

With the work being done at KEL, Walkley is committed to preserving Ktunaxa culture and advancing economic opportunities for the community within the Ktunaxa’s territory, emphasizing the importance of unity and collaboration for future success.

“I’m hell-bent on economic and financial independence for the whole Nation, all four communities and every citizen,” Walkley said. “I just want our citizens to take their rightful place in the socioeconomic fabric of our territory and get to benefit from our natural resources. I’m so proud of this business. In my mind, it’s the right way to do business. I’ve been very passionate about trying to lead my people, as a band and as a Nation, to economic and financial independence.”

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