Arctic Development Expo feature: Gwich’in Development Corporation

The organization seeks out business opportunities to generate income that will later be distributed to Gwich’in beneficiaries

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Shortly after the signing of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement in 1992, the Gwich’in Development Corporation (GDC) was created, an organization whose purpose is to generate wealth that will eventually be distributed among the agreement’s beneficiaries.

“In doing that, you hope to create economic benefits, in terms of employment and training opportunities for people,” said James Thorbourne, the CEO of the GDC.

Their means of generating wealth, he continued, can come in three different forms: doing business by themselves, investing in other businesses, or doing business in partnership.

The Gwich’in Development Corporation was founded shortly after the signing of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement in 1992. It’s purpose is to generate wealth that will later be distributed to Gwich’in beneficiaries. Aaron Hemens/NNSL photo
The Gwich’in Development Corporation was founded shortly after the signing of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement in 1992. It’s purpose is to generate wealth that will later be distributed to Gwich’in beneficiaries. Aaron Hemens/NNSL photo

Partnering with other businesses has been their most frequent option, he said.

They’ve established joint ventures with organizations such as Northview Apartments, Great Slave Helicopters, and Larga, a medical boarding home in Edmonton.

“We also have a joint venture with NWT Power Corporation in Fort McPherson, which is a waste heat recovery system,” said Thorbourne. “Basically, it takes waste heat from the electricity generation and delivers that waste heat to surrounding buildings to reduce their energy consumption.”

Thorbourne said that he’s got his eye on a number of future business opportunities here in Inuvik, which includes getting involved in the growing satellite station, helping with the construction of a new airport terminal and long term care facility,  and participating in the development of the proposed wind farm at Inuvik High Point.

He added that the GDC owns a construction entity that had previously done maintenance work along the Dempster Highway, and he’s hoping to use that same group to help with the remediation project of the James Creek Maintenance Camp.

“You always try to bring traditional knowledge, Gwich’in knowledge and values to the work that we’re doing in the settlement area,” he said. “Mediation at James Creek, for example, it’s helpful to know when the caribou go through there – if they go through there at all. It’s helpful to know where people get water from. Those types of things.”

Thorbourne is listed as one of the speakers of “The Emerging Economy of Remediation in Canada’s Arctic” discussion during the town’s Arctic Development Expo on June 11.

“The theme there is really to look historically and see how much money has been spent on Arctic remediation in the past,” he said.

“Think DEW line sites across the Arctic, some of the legacy mines that are being cleaned up, like Giant Mine in Yellowknife. Bring that forward to what other legacy things need to be cleaned up.”

The goal of the discussion, he continued, is to explore the different ways that the remediation market can strictly benefit companies from the North, as opposed to having visiting southern businesses profit off of it.

“I’m going to wrap up the (panel discussion) and put that into context in the NWT economy, so people understand how big it is and how big it could be, and the task of preventing leakage of that business out and trying to keep more of that in,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of the expo, for it allows visitors to get a sense of the opportunities that the region has to offer.

“I think Inuvik is searching for the next thing. Perhaps they’re at a crossroads, but you can’t let people hear – or people from the outside write it off as nothing going on here anymore. There are things going on,” he said.