Fourteen months into his term as Kukpi7 (chief) of the formerly named Little Shuswap Lake Band, James Tomma is enjoying working for his people and is optimistic for the future.
One change recently instituted was a name change.
“It was a progression; way back when I was a child we started talking about it. It went from Little Shuswap Lake – and I don’t say the “I” word – Band. Then it was Little Shuswap Lake Band. But that name was given to us.”
The new name is Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw.
“Our identity is Skwlāx, black bear on two legs. Te Secwepemcúl̓ecw, black bear on Secwépmec land. That’s our identity. The name change just reaffirms our identity that we’re known as, not an identity and number that was given to us,” he explained.
Another progression fits in with Kukpi7 Tomma’s election platform in 2021.
That was his aim to work for the children, to ensure them the ability to be self-reliant and self-determined. Skwlax Resource Management (SRM) embodies that goal. Along with work in the construction industry, SRM allows the band to operate across a range of industries.
“The success that Squilax Resource Management has had is a good indication of not only the hard work and diligence of employees who have worked for SRM, but I might add the majority are Indigenous people working there. We take quite a bit of pride that we’re employing our people.”
Tomma said he doesn’t foresee SRM ever going out of business.
“I think it has some legs and it’s going to continue growing. All indications are through projections, the business that we’re doing with the SRM construction and all the other things that are available out there for what Skwlax Resource does is only going to get busier. There’s various things – rehab of land, deactivation, road construction, assisting in building.”
He said SRM won the bid for the clean-up of Quaaout Lodge following the fire in May 2022.
Asked about the progress of the lodge, Tomma said the rebuild of what was the accommodation portion of the complex is in the design phase.
“We have a lodge rebuild working group right now… One of my big things I ran on my platform was I was returning the band back to the band.”
Tomma said the band members are actually the band, not the three people they elect or hire.
“We work for them,” he said, explaining he wants band members to have a say on the vision for the lodge.
Although the accommodation wing was destroyed, the golf course, spa, restaurant and conference centre remain open on a limited basis.
“You gotta pay the light bill somehow,” he smiled.
When the lodge burned, the band lost a fair number of seasonal and full time jobs. But business ventures with SRM and others have helped to pick up the slack.
Kukpi7 Tomma said SRM has assumed total ownership of the band’s gravel esker or gravel pit.
“We’re not going to lease it out or hire contractors to run that business for us. SRM will initially get it up and running, but eventually band members will be working in the gravel pit. The band will see the dividends from that gravel pit because it’s going to be worth a lot of money to the children.”
He said this is the direction SRM and the band are taking, ensuring the legacy left for children is one where they don’t have to fix anything but can instead improve on what’s been done.
Already SRM has reached the stage where it has begun to pay for itself, he said, about three years earlier than initially projected.
“One thing good about SRM is we’re able to diversify so that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket… When you get to a certain size, then you’re able to get your hands into a bunch of different jobs that are available. Thus we can keep quite a few people busy throughout the year,” he said.
“Our band, they’re quite proud of SRM. We’re becoming well known in the industry, quite well respected for the quality of work that’s being done and that only fuels expansion.
“That goes a long way in ensuring when I finally lay down for the last time, knowing that my children will be taken care of then. SRM is a flagship for the band and I’m quite proud of it.”
Kukpi7 Tomma is quick to add that while he does the steering, “I do have a really good council, a really good administration, that makes me look good.”
In the past, he said, the band’s wealth came from leasing land. He wants band members to be able to work for their money with band-owned businesses, which will bring in more money.
Overall, he’s generally pleased with how things are going.
“Fourteen months in it, I’m still enjoying myself; there’s been road bumps and everything, as with life. But I look forward to continuing not only working for my people but hopefully I have an effect on the surrounding communities too.”
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