The Lil’wat Nation, whose traditional territory encompasses Whistler, Pemberton and much of the surrounding region, has a very strong connection to its land and considers its history to be “written on the land.” As part of the Nation’s plan for economic self-sufficiency, its leadership has prioritized the agricultural sector for economic development through both strategic and community land use plans.
The Lil’wat Nation has one of the largest on reserve First Nation populations in British Columbia. Given the agricultural richness of the Pemberton Valley and the need for increased band member employment, Sauder S3i partnered with the Lil’wat Nation to explore options for improving the agricultural productivity of some of its commonly shared reserve lands. The Pemberton Valley area, where the band is located, has a robust agricultural land base and holds an international reputation for pest-free seed potatoes and natural beef. The area also plays host to a burgeoning niche of specialty agriculture producers who sell their produce to local markets in Pemberton and to regional markets in Whistler and Vancouver. In 2011 alone, the Valley’s agricultural sector generated nearly $6 million in gross farm receipts.
While the Lil’wat Nation reserves include more than 2,000 acres of agriculturally suitable lands, the Nation’s participation in the agriculture industry is largely limited to small-scale cattle rearing and gardening. After identifying a large disparity between the two values, Sauder S3i investigated options and developed recommendations for the community to consider how it could better leverage its land holdings to improve economic outcomes for its people; both in terms of per acre profitability and local employment opportunities. The research provided the Nation’s decision-makers and many stakeholders with information to support possible infrastructure investments and identified potential revenue streams that could help realize the economic development goals of the Nation.