June is National Indigenous History Month, celebrating the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of Indigenous Peoples across Canada.
Companies, families, communities, and individuals will recognize and participate in the celebration. Some will start their educational journey learning about Indigenous peoples, many will reflect on personal experiences, and others, like Acden, will be starting to define how to meaningfully recognize National Indigenous History throughout June and beyond.
Acden is the business arm of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN). Its success contributes to the economic independence of the Nation by providing the financial means to invest in people, programs, and infrastructure that improve quality of life for ACFN members. Acden has decided to honour National Indigenous History Month in a traditional way, by sharing ACFN stories.
How Acden began
In 1994, Tony Mercredi was Chief of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. During that time, Syncrude and Suncor were gearing up to expand their oil sands operations. This accelerated the growth of economic opportunity for Indigenous communities in the region. Chief Mercredi realized the opportunity to develop a business arm that could help the Nation achieve financial independence. That year, working together with Syncrude, Chief Mercredi established our founding company Denesoline Environment. The company started with one truck and 10 employees performing waste management services on site. One opportunity led to another and ACFN Business Group was formed, eventually rebranding in 2012 as Acden. Since 1994, whatever the name, the corporation has worked to meet the same founding goals: to ensure a strong, sustainable future for ACFN and to achieve service excellence. With the continued guidance of ACFN Chief and Council, the administrative team at Acden keeps the vision of Chief Mercredi alive while adapting to an ever-changing economy, industry and region.
— ACFN Chief Allan Adam
ACFN is investing in sustainability for future generations
Economic development and community health are intrinsically linked, meaning the financial success of Acden directly relates to the health of the community. A recent report from the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health states, “economic development generates employment opportunities and leads to improved education and skills acquisition. It is an important tool in alleviating poverty and other social conditions that lead to ill health.”
Since 1994, Acden has grown to include seven wholly-owned companies and 11 partnerships, with thousands of employees in offices in Fort Chipewyan, Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Calgary. As a result, the Nation has also prospered, taking incredible strides to sustainably invest in our members, programs, and infrastructure for the benefit of future generations. A large portion of our membership resides in the remote community of Fort Chipewyan, so we’ve prioritized investing in projects that will provide food and clean energy security for that community. In 2018, we started the 3 Nations Energy (3NE) Project and built Canada’s largest remote solar farm. In collaboration with two other Nations, the farm was created to reduce the amount of diesel fuel being transported to the community. To address food security, ACFN opened a Nation-owned grocery store called the K’ai Tailé Market. Building and operating our own grocery store allows us to offer lower grocery prices, provide employment, and bring in traditional foods that locals want like organ meats. We are so proud of the success of Acden and the growth of our Nation and appreciate all the individuals whose contributions have brought us to where we are today.
— Michelle Voyageur, Chief of Operations, ACFN
Family pride and living legacies
Former ACFN Chief Tony Mercredi was my uncle. Our family is so proud to see how his vision has allowed our Nation to prosper. I have witnessed so much growth in Fort Chipewyan since I was a small child. The success of Acden over the past 28 years has contributed to the Nation’s ability to build housing, invest in infrastructure, provide food and energy security, and offer culture-based programming among other benefits.
I’ve been a proud employee of Acden since 1997. Back then, there were 13 employees and two companies. I started as a scale house operator at Syncrude and now, 25 years later I’m employed as a Financial Coqntroller. I’m proud that Acden reflects the values of our Nation and invests in members like myself by providing educational opportunities and work experience that enable us to create value not only for Acden but our community as well.
— Hazel Mercredi, ACFN Member and long-tenured Acden employee
Looking to the future
Within economic development, there are two types of economies: the traditional economy (hunting, trapping) and the market economy. As ACFN’s business arm, it is important that our approach to economic development and our corporate values remain consistent with those held by the Nation. Acden is focusing inward on continuously evolving our corporate identity to reflect ACFN in our words, actions, and how and where we conduct business now and into the future.
The progressive investments the Nation has made over the past few years are inspiring. We have been listening and learning about the transition to net-zero and considering our role in the journey to decarbonize. Recently we’ve been involved in discussions focused on reintegrating the “I” (Indigenous) into ESG (environmental, social, governance) systems and strategies. As our corporation continues to grow and new investment opportunities emerge, we are discussing our corporate approach to IESG and what a sustainable business model will look like for us in the future. ACFN continues to demonstrate leadership in sustainable decision-making and investment for future generations. As their business arm, we will continue to do the same.
— Dan Rorke, Vice President, Business Development, Acden