Darcy Bear Chief of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Whitecap, Sask. Elected for seven consecutive terms, Mr. Bear, 48, has taken the community about 25 kilometres south of Saskatoon from a 70-per-cent unemployment rate to 5 per cent and is on track for self-governance.
I never aspired to be chief. I was raised by my grandparents in Whitecap, and there were no jobs. There was no economic-development activity. We had to cut wood to heat our home and haul water. We were pioneers but only 20 minutes away from a modern city. It instilled a good work ethic in me. It was a happy upbringing. Even to this day, I get up early. It's just the way I was raised. I went to university and studied commerce, when a few of my community members asked me if I would run [for election as chief]. I said I would, but [told them] after I lose, you have to leave me alone. I've been here ever since.
The first day I was elected and went to the office, we didn't have one dime in our bank account. We were in overdraft. So, as young person, the easiest thing would be to walk away. But if you want to be a leader, you need to accept the challenges and find solutions. Anybody can identify a problem. Our budget was $800,000 when I started out; our budget now is $12[-million] to $15-million on the Whitecap side.
If you look at the Indian Act, it was never a piece of legislation for us to be a part of the economy. It was to keep us out of sight and out of mind. We've always said that if you go back to our ancestors, they were never lazy people. So we are saying, in our community, we have to be hard-working like they were to honour our ancestors. We all have to work together to rebuild our nations.
We had to create a business environment model that can attract investors and work with financial institutions to know how our commercial leasehold system works. We now have all those mechanisms in place, which has taken us from a 70-per-cent unemployment rate to a 5-per-cent unemployment rate. When we are part of the economy, we are part of the solution, but there are still many challenges. [Our new business model] brings a big net benefit back to Canada and the provinces. We never wanted to be jobless. We can provide for our own families.
Creating jobs brings me the most joy. When there is actually employment and children see their mom and dad go to work every day, there is no better role model. Prior to European contact, everyone in the community had a role to play and to see that come back is one of the better accomplishments that we've made as a community together.
Whitecap is moving toward self-government. We will be recognized as the Whitecap Dakota government. We will have our own constitution as well. It will include verything that's important to our community, including the protection of our language and the environment.
It's human nature to move toward opportunity. We have 1.2 million tourists come into our community every year for the casino and golf course. We also operate a gas bar and store. We just opened the first phase of our business park. We also have a hotel project that will generate about 140 jobs when it's open.
I'll run again. I think there are too many things left undone to walk away. I want to finalize our self-government agreement and resolve our land-claim issues with Canada. I've always had other offers, but for me Whitecap is home. It means more to me than what other people can offer. It's not necessarily about being paid a high salary but working for your community. Ultimately, the choice is up to the people. It's not up to me. I never take it for granted.
As told to Leah Eichler. This interview has been edited and condensed.