WFN Youth Centre is huge success

Westbank First Nation: Supporting the community through economic development

When Westbank First Nation opened its Youth Centre in January, they knew it would be popular, but the uptake has been beyond the community’s expectations.

The $5.5-million, over 1,200-square-metre facility hosts a range of programs for hundreds of youth, including 27 different programs, a youth council, Youth Works program, homework support, recreation and sports, cooking classes, driver training, various cultural workshops, youth fitness and movie nights — just to name a few.

The centre has become a new focal point and welcome addition to the community, and is preparing to add an outdoor cultural kitchen. More than 800 people have toured the facility in the first three months of operations.

“The Youth Centre is an investment in tomorrow’s leaders, offering safe and healthy living, and leadership opportunities for youth,” said WFN Chief Roxanne Lindley. “We want to mentor youth and give them opportunities, so they in turn will become mentors.

“When our young ones see that we take our youth seriously, it gives them a sense of belonging, of being part of the community. And although the building is a youth centre, it is a place for intergenerational connections, with babies upstairs and Elders coming in regularly.”

The Youth Centre is a product of WFN’s meticulous and inclusive planning, plus the fact that more than a quarter of its members are younger than 30 years old. WFN members brought their ideas and passions to help forge the facility, with an end result that is the envy of any community.

WFN is perhaps best known for its progressive leadership, business acumen and strong governance.

Its reserve lands are home to more than 400 businesses across more than 130,000 square metres of shopping and entertainment space, which include major retailers and banks, and provides 3,900 direct jobs. More than 9,000 people live on Westbank land, in 4,200 homes, with the vast majority of residents being non-First Nations. WFN has pioneered a type of long-term lease that provides security to those investing and living on Westbank land.

Despite a strong focus on economic development, WFN hasn’t lost sight of what’s important — community comes first. This is reflected in the priorities of WFN’s strategic plan: culture and history, early childhood development, youth and Elders come first. Economic development is farther down the list as a means to support those ends.

Lindley said WFN is focused on ensuring that revenues from development and business partnerships are sustainable and benefit its approximately 840 members. WFN invests heavily in health and wellness, community infrastructure, education and employment, and recreation services. Beyond the Youth Centre, WFN has recently opened a new public beach park and renovated its day care. In 2014, it opened a heritage museum, fostering tourism, and supporting its culture and history.

“Westbank invests in growth and prosperity, and we also invest in our language and culture,” said Lindley. “The Sncewips Heritage Museum is a protector of our heritage. It shares the stories of the first people of the valley.”

WFN governance is built on a foundation of both a land code and self-government agreement, which provide WFN full jurisdiction over its lands and resources. A modern taxation system, lands registry and a secure land tenure system has given the WFN and its business partners the certainty and security needed to invest for the long term.

“WFN is the first reserve in Canada supported by Land Title Insurance, which means our land tenure system is guaranteed and provides absolute security in investment,” Lindley said.

It’s also set the stage to look beyond residential and commercial development. In collaboration with the Upper Nicola Band, the Penticton Indian Band and InstarAGF Asset Management, WFN has invested in two wind farms in the Okanagan, developed by Zero Emission Energy Developments, which came into operation in April this year.

The 10 turbines of Okanagan Wind are generating enough clean energy to power 2,500 homes through a 40-year purchase agreement with BC Hydro.

“Westbank has always had strong ties with sustainability,” said Lindley. “Through the Okanagan Wind project, we are pleased to continue a commitment to clean energy initiatives. We are proud to be a part of the process since development through construction and now in operations alongside other local contractors to ensure the best results for our future.

“Our partnership and collaboration on these facilities helps to harness the natural wind energy supplied by our region, while bringing tangible benefits for our community members.”