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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
recalls some of the activities undertaken by the band since
he became chief:
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.
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."
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."
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."
is a major problem. However, more young people are wanting
to work because they see what their friends can buy when they
"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
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.
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
Enterprises Ltd. generated total revenues of $1.7 million
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.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."