In 1951 Kinder Morgan began laying a pipeline across the Simpcw First Nation’s land. How was the deal negotiated? By a government official that spoke on behalf of the Simpcw people and Chief and Council was only symbolic. This was during a time when residential schools were considered the norm, and the Indian act controlled almost every aspect of Indigenous People’s lives. This history is where we started our interview with Keith Matthew who is a former Chief and Council of the Simpcw First Nation, a successful businessman, and member and founder of multiple organizations that are working to build economic opportunity for Indigenous People across BC.
Fast forward from 1951 to today and Keith’s community is now a power house of industry, negotiating with Kinder Morgan to secure maintenance and safety contracts for hundreds of kilometers of pipeline, partnering on a $7 million heli ski lodge investment, securing a fibre deal Gilbert Smith Forest Products, and working with Canadian Hydro for the Bone Creek Hydro Independent Power Project in Blue River. Keith has played many key roles along the way and offers deep insight into how deals get done and why so often disputes end up in court.
Keith tells a story about the time 1910 when Sir Wilfrid Laurier was meeting with indigenous leaders from the central interior of BC and they presented him with a Memorial to Sir Wilfrid Laurier document that outlined a way forward including sharing equity in their land’s resources, however when Sir Laurier lost the election and the work was lost. Keith goes on to explain that as a result of never finalizing that agreement now millions are spent in court because often that is the only path forward to settle disputes between Indigenous Peoples, companies, and the government.
A key element of these disputes is “Proof of Title.” According to Keith the Simpcw First Nation is one of the most litigious bands in Canada because they have not surrendered their unceded land. The attempt his forefathers made to secure an agreement would have both secured his people’s place within Canada’s economy but would have also eliminated billions of dollars in litigation and thousands upon thousands of hours in court over land and development disputes.
Like any good business leader Keith welcomes competition and he made very clear throughout the interview that his company’s don’t ask for special treatment because they know they can compete at a high level and operate at a fair price. In fact the negotiations between him and Kinder Morgan included that Simpcw First Nation would not be paid a premium for working on the pipeline on their own land. This approach carries over into his contracting company Sketch Arrowhead Contracting Ltd which is involved in heavy mining construction and was awarded a major contract with New Gold Inc.
Keith Matthew is someone who has met the Pope which he describes as “an incredible moment in my life and something that I will cherish forever” but even as a Catholic himself he still stood his ground on behalf of his people to ask for two things, an apology and another meeting. Courage, conviction, and competency are all clearly what Keith brings to the table. Leadership without these things leaves all of us without a clear direction…especially for the next generation. He is paving the way for the next generation(s) to move forward with a foundation that will shape the future of the Simpcw First Nation, Indigenous People, and Canadians.
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