Elders, politicians, members of the business and community at large gathered last week as Long Plain First Nation celebrated the opening of its Microtel hotel at Keeshkeemaquah with a ribbon-cutting
The new Microtel by Wyndham hotel at the “Keesh” is one of 350 around the globe and cutting the ribbon to officially open its doors to the public represented the addition of another page in economic development for the First Nation.
“It’s a project that’s been in the works for a very, very long time,” Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches told a full and busy hotel lobby.
“There’s a lot of people who have helped out with this project. We’re a growing company, we have a large government and a very large corporate sector. We have a lot of corporations. Arrowhead Development Corporation is our parent company, but we must have 15-16 corporations and we are growing. We’re moving in a very positive direction. We have a great relationship with our partners, partnerships that are also how we were able to come to this day; with First Nations Finance Authority, with the Financial Management Board — without them this project would not have been possible,” Chief Meeches said.
“We put a lot of energy and time into growing the economy of Long Plain First Nation. You’ll see a lot of major events happening, special projects moving forward. As a growing First Nation part of Treaty 1, I think there’s a lot of promise for Long Plain First Nation and the other six first Nations that are a part of Treaty 1 and to continue to grow the economy for our indigenous people.”
Treaty 1 Development Corporation Chief Operating Officer Tim Daniels reminisced on the early days of deciding, planning and talking about adding a hotel to the Long Plain economic portfolio. It’s a process that can be traced back to the 1990s, he said.
“I was the trust administrator in the 1990s,” re recalled. “Long Plain Trust went on a roadshow and asked our people, ‘how would you like to see our trust monies be used’? A hotel was one of the top 10 projects that our people wanted us to undertake. It’s taken us this long — two generations — but we’ve finally achieved it,” Daniels said.
Initially Long Plain wanted to build a large centre encompassing the gaming centre and a hotel but settled on building the gaming centre.
Waylon Sutherland, chief executive officer Treaty 1 Nation Development Corporation recalled conversations dating back many years and first meeting Peter Lee and learning of Microtel and MasterBUILT.
“We formed a relationship and when we were talking they said ‘do you know a First Nation that would be willing to build a Microtel in Manitoba’? First thing that popped into my mind (was) Long Plain.”
Local First Nation leaders travelled to Fort McMurray, AB to experience a Microtel opening. “When we were leaving the chief said to us, ‘let’s make this happen’ so with that being said we took that initiative,” Sutherland said.
“Many years ago (Chief) Dennis (Meeches) told me about the vision the people of Long Plain had for this land and this hotel. It’s tremendous to see this actually happen,” Portage la Prairie Mayor Irvine Ferris, said.
“Obviously, this is going to create jobs and prosperity for people of Long Plain, but I know when our neighbours prosper, we all prosper. That’s why this is so important.”
“Currently we bid on conventions,” the mayor outlined the hotel’s importance from a business perspective. “There’s a lot of small conventions that come to Portage la Prairie and they create some prosperity, but often we lose out on mid-size ones because we don’t have the room capacity. We’re now able to count these 75 rooms into that capacity. You can bet we will be bidding on larger conventions and we will see some of them come here,” Ferris said.
“We have a very strong relationship with the City of Portage,” Chief Meeches said. “We have worked with many mayors and councils throughout the years and that’s how we get things done…just having a strong partnership and relationship.”
Another neighbour, Dakota Tipi, also recognizes the value in building economies.
said Long Plain is a trendsetter. “The success of one community is a success for all of us.”
Daniels gave credit to Frank Busch director of community engagement First Nations Finance Authority for helping Long Plain map how it could finance its new venture.
“For anybody who is very curious, there were not any taxpayer dollars put into this hotel,” Busch said. “The money was raised on the international bond market, mainly the Toronto Stock Exchange, New York, Europe and we even had buyers for bonds in the middle east,” said Busch. “In the last five years, the finance authority has put $180 million into First Nations communities just in Manitoba alone. According to the StatsCanada metric, that money circulates within Manitoba six times before leaving the province so we have had almost a billion-dollar impact in Manitoba over the last five years,” he said. “This is really what we see as the future of First Nations economic development and reconciliation.”
“It’s a beautiful location and will add to the Central Plains region,” explained the Long Plain Chief. “We’re working towards an Indigenous Residential School Museum and just recently took possession of Shady Oaks Campground. We will be renaming it to Keeshkeemaquah Campground and RV Park.
“We have projects in the queue,” Chief Meeches said. “In Winnipeg, for example, we’re working towards Wyndham Garden, which will be one of the next big projects. We’re close, maybe four-five months away from that. We bought the franchise agreement I think that will bode well for Long Plain First Nation sometime in the near future.”