Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises Ltd.

Haines Junction, Yukon

Chief Paul Birckel heads the Champagne-Aishihik band and oversees all social programs and economic development initiatives, including one of their successful business ventures, a construction company called Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises Ltd. Based in Haines Junction, the company employs a number of band members on a permanent basis and provides seasonal training opportunities for other band members.
The company's revenues have grown steadily under Paul's stewardship. It has successfully trained and given jobs to many band members, thus fulfilling its' original purpose. The company's reputation has spread in the community and its client base has expanded beyond territorial government.
Despite the problems of running a band based business, Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises has survived. Critics have scrutinized the company's performance and have sometimes made it a political issue. These pressures will likely shape the future of the company, but Paul and his employees are pleased with the company and its potential to improve the outlines of the history of the construction company. The following section outlines the history of the company.


The Champagne-Aishihik band is made up of over 700 members descended from two aboriginal groups, the Southern Tutchone and the Coastal Tlingit, which merged. There are close to 300 band members living in Haines Junction; the majority of the remaining members live in Whitehorse. Band members also live in communities throughout the southwestern Yukon, including Champagne, Aishihik, Canyon Creek, Kloo Lake, and Klukshu. The band conducts economic development initiatives under two main companies: Dakwakada Development Corp. and Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises Ltd.
Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises began operations in the summer of 1976. Unemployment among band members was high. Harold Kane, the company's general manager recalls, "One of the principal reasons the construction company was started was to create employment for our people." Paul was elected chief of the band in 1980 and has been re-elected for every term since. He has taken steps to expand the company in his role as company president.
Paul recalls, "In 1980 when I started, all we were doing most of the time was hauling garbage, wood, water, and sewage. Since then we've expanded quite a bit. We bought some heavy equipment, including a grader and a loader, and started doing our own roads. Construction of band members' houses was contracted out at that time. We started doing most of that ourselves, although we contracted some of the houses out, depending on our manpower."

Paul is a driving force behind many of the changes that address the social and economic problems faced by his people. Before becoming chief, he worked for a utility company as a self taught mechanic. Then he went to work for the Council of Yukon Indians, a political organization, for six years. At the same time, he took night courses on bookkeeping and general management. Paul notes, "Whatever I learned, I picked up on my own. I've been through a lot of courses at night school but basically I've done it on my own." He is a successful entrepreneur in his own right and operates a business services company.
Paul recalls some of the activities undertaken by the band since he became chief:
"One of the first things that we did was to recognize the band. We developed a new band constitution and we were the first band to set a membership code. We were also the first band to sign an Alternate Funding Arrangement (AFA) with Department of Indian Affairs." An AFA is almost like block funding.
"We handle our own child welfare program, which is a first again for the Yukon and almost first across Canada. We've developed our own operations manual and its fairly successful. We place some of the kids that were in the territorial child welfare system back with their parents. Finally those parents are beginning to look after their kids. This contrasts with the way the Yukon Government handled our kids. They were taken completely away from the band and were institutionalized."

Most band funds are channeled into social programs. Paul comments on his band's social problems: "In a way, our band is probably better off than other bands, although we feel our problems are horrible. In some places I've visited, young kids were drunk in the middle of the day. I go to some bands and I see members sleeping under a table or passed out somewhere."
His people are doing better. "It's unusual to see somebody in our band staggering around in the middle of the day. We have a couple of guys that don't have any skills or tools and they get drunk once in while, but not like that. We're trying to find ways to solve our problems, but we sometimes don't realize how lucky we are until we visit somewhere else."
Unemployment is a major problem. However, more young people are wanting to work because they see what their friends can buy when they are employed.
"They're buying cars and skidoos and getting into debt and they have to service those debts.

They're more mobile and they buy good clothes and good houses. It all builds up their self-confidence and they want to stay sober.
"We still have a few young guys who haven't found their way, but they're just being young and I'm not sure how you're going to change that. I'm not going to preach to them. They've got to get that energy out of their system before they settle down. One of the things that we've tried in the past that has worked fairly well is to hire students right out of school in the summer with funds from the government. We put them to work in the construction company and they have to work so many hours a day.
"It was a bit of the failure in the summer of 1989 because some of the kids were just too lazy to work but I think it's worked in the past and will work in the future. It's tough. Things happen all around here which makes it tough on everybody. For example, sometimes street drugs come in from somewhere and everybody gets high on them. It's something that I'm not sure we can get away from."


Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises Ltd. generated total revenues of $1.7 million in 1989.
"We build houses and roof trusses and do road construction. We're putting in water and sewer lines right now in Haines Junction. We put in a chip boiler last year, so we'll be selling heat mainly to the band. We do much of the mechanical work on the water and sewer systems but we do bring in people for specific jobs on the projects, such as on the chip boiler.
"We've built houses and done road construction all over the Yukon for the territorial government. The majority of our revenue comes from contracts for housing, roof work, and preparation of construction sites, and for hauling water and sewage. In the winter, we build roof trusses. Our biggest customer is Beaver Lumber. We also run the boiler system for the band. With the revenue, we employ people to cut wood as a job creation project. Ninety percent of our employees are band members."

The organization is headed by Harold Kane, the general manager and a band member. The housing superintendent, Phil Zaitsoff, is a non-band member who handles the housing and truss plant. He handles all the design work for the trusses. Paul notes, "We build roof trusses that support the roof covering. The design is quite technical because the truss handles different stresses. Since they are used in the North, the truss has to be higher up than normal so we can get proper air function. We work with an engineering firm who puts their engineer's stamp on our truss plate designs."
Harold Kane has been general manager for the past eight years. He came to the position with extensive experience in the road-building industry in the Yukon and British Columbia. When he started, Harold recalls, "We had only two permanent employees and now we have about five. My job is not really clearly perfectly defined. I do what needs to be done. Sometimes I'll even run equipment or do mechanical work or welding. I'll even cook in camp if necessary."
The band and the government are the major customers of the company. Bids are submitted for government projects, as well as to private corporations. As Harold notes, "Notice of project bids are watched for by people in the band office and we rely on the mailing list from the government."

"Bonding has been a major problem because operational dollars were a long time coming. We couldn't bid on the bigger jobs because we didn't have the money to meet the bonding requirements. We only owned one or two trucks to start with, but now we must have a million dollars in trucks and tools." In the construction industry, a general contractor such as Champagne-Aishihik Enterprises must put up a bond when submitting a bid for large contracts. This bond shows the client that the company will not fold before completion of the project and acts as a guarantee that the successful bidder is financially capable of carrying on the project. It is usually a percentage of the total value of the project. It can be very difficult for new companies with little operating capital to meet the bond requirements.
Another non-band member prepares all the bids and designs software to handle the company's computer needs. Paul notes, "We're computerized to some extent. Accounting and payroll are on computer and Larry Jacobson uses it to prepare all the estimates and bids. We're working on developing a software job-costing program that will fit our needs. There are some programs on the market, but they're expensive. We would have to buy their hardware and not use ours. We're still looking for something, but we don't have the money to go ahead. If we did have, then we would hire our own people to design the program for us."


There are five permanent staff in addition to the managerial staff. There are approximately fifty or sixty seasonal positions, including trainee positions, in the peak summer period. The hiring policy is to offer jobs to qualified band members first and then seek non-band members for any vacant positions. Training positions are only for band members. If employees want to take time to hunt or fish, then it is taken as regular vacation time any time other than during the peak summer months.
Paul says, "We do have five or six guys who stay on almost all winter. We try to find projects to involve the rest of the employees in the winter, but houses are taking so long to build that we're either into December or January anyway. In the 1989-90 season we're going to try to make it year round, so that we can keep the good employees working. We'll do the majority of the houses and hopefully be ready to start the last house around January or February. By the time that's finished, we'll be starting a new year again."
As Harold notes, "Most of the good workers do stay but everything is governed by the contracts that are in the public sector. It is all seasonal work which means that you can't plan your life around it."