When Keri Ponace learned a Tim Hortons was opening on Sakimay First Nation land on Regina’s outskirts, she was determined to be a part of it from the beginning.
She’s excited to work on her band’s own land – especially in a coffee shop.
“Everyone loves Tim Hortons coffee, so I thought it would be an interesting endeavour,” she said at Tuesday’s grand opening. “Hopefully I can become a manager. My goal is to have more of a leadership (role), so I can show other people what they can do.”
Ponace is now a supervisor in training at the first band-owned Tim Hortons franchise in the Regina area, and only the second in Saskatchewan. The shop near Dewdney Avenue and Pinkie Road is the newest tenant to move into the growing Saulteaux Crossing Business Park, on Sakimay land wedged between the Westerra subdivision and the Global Transportation Hub.
Sakimay Chief Lynn Acoose said the opening was the “culmination of a dream.” The band has long sought to set up a Tim Hortons franchise, which she said will provide opportunities for First Nations youth. That was part of the mandate she gave to the operators, Doyle Hospitality.
“We talked to them early on about ensuring that Indigenous people participate here as employees, not only as counter staff, but as supervisors and managers,” Acoose said. “They’re grooming people to eventually manage our store.”
As of Tuesday, 75 per cent of the employees are Indigenous, coming from numerous First Nations, not just Sakimay. The chief is pleased to see Ponace behind the counter, and is confident she’ll make a good supervisor, noting the young mother has always been “really driven for her family and her community.”
For Acoose, it’s important for her band members to have the option of working on their own land.
“We want to create opportunities for our people to have work on reserve, so they can enjoy the benefits of being a treaty person and working on treaty land,” the chief said.
The opening ceremony attracted politicians from the city, the province and the federal government. Former Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco attended in his role as CEO of Sakimay’s business arm, Four Horse Developments.
Fiacco said the franchise will soon be followed by another tenant in the same building, which already houses an Esso convenience store. He has big plans for the rest of the 250-acre expanse of band territory.
“The most exciting development will be at the corner, where the old Salteaux gas station was located,” he said. “There’s a huge opportunity for us to build an Indigenous cultural centre.”
He said the cultural centre might come with a convention centre, as well as a nearby hotel. Acoose sees the project as a commercial and industrial “hub” for the Westerra community.
Ponace said the development makes her “proud to be a Sakimaniac.”
“For me, it means a great deal,” she said. “It’s just being part of my reserve, my people, and leading Aboriginal people here. (That’s) what we’re trying to do.”