A First Nations individual from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation has risen to the top at the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce.
Harris Sutherland was sworn in Thursday night as chair of the Battlefords Chamber at their Chair’s Banquet, held this year at the Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts.
Chief Roy Petit administered Sutherland’s swearing in. He is from Sutherland’s home reserve of Beardy’s and Okemasis. Sutherland was also presented the gavel by outgoing chair Dallan Oberg.
Also, Melanie Roberts of North West College and Vivian Whitecalf of BATC were sworn in as vice-chair and second vice-chair respectively.
Sutherland said to reporters that being the very first Indigenous chair of the Battlefords Chamber was a “huge honour.”
“Following in the great footsteps of past previous chairs such as Dallan, Terry (Caldwell) and all of them, they had great vision. I just want to continue that vision and hopefully leave a mark that not only resonates with the business community but with the social community as well.”
Sutherland has been a longtime employee with the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. He works for Gold Eagle Casino as senior operations manager, and has been with SIGA for 14 years in various capacities.
In recent years Sutherland has served on the Chamber board, rising to become vice-chair over the past year.
“I’d have to admit I was a little bit nervous but at the same time I’d say 90 per cent excitement. This is a huge opportunity for myself,” said Sutherland to reporters about his new role at the Chamber.
“Battlefords is a great place to live, it’s a great place to do business and I look forward to growing with it along with our members in the year 2020.”
Sutherland takes over during a time when the Chamber has been focusing attention on outreach towards First Nations.
Sutherland noted the Chamber has always had good relations with the area tribal councils and various organizations. But he said, “we realize there is an opportunity for growth” to expand the social impact.
Sutherland told reporters his goal for the Chamber in 2020 includes “bridging the gap between local businesses and local First Nations.” Plans include creating a First Nations directory to directly link businesses in the community to First Nations.
This week the Battlefords Chamber signed on to the Indigenous Engagement Charter launched by the Saskatchewan Chamber. This is the Chamber’s effort towards business engagement with the First Nations community.
It was something officials at the Battlefords Chamber “knew we had to get on right away. This is something we strongly believe in,” said Sutherland.
Sask. Chamber president Steve McLellan spoke briefly at the banquet and noted 35 other businesses around the province have already signed on in addition to those in the Battlefords.
“It’s important that engagement become not just something that they sign, but become part of the DNA of the organization,” said McLellan.
The guest speaker at Thursday’s event was Zane Hansen, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. During his remarks Hansen congratulated Sutherland on his new role.
“When I was first contacted about Harris becoming chair, at first I was happy for him, but then I was kind of not overly surprised,” said Hansen. He described Sutherland as a “success story” within SIGA whose career was “one of steady progression,” and who was known for going the extra mile.
“(Sutherland) has always been that guy that jumps in and kind of just wants things to be better,” said Hansen. “So it didn’t surprise me that he’s the incoming chair for the Battlefords Chamber, it made perfect sense to me.”