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'Find your niche,' says Diamond.

`Find your niche,' says Diamond

One of the most prominent native businessmen in Canada was on hand in early April to help natives of the Manitoulin Island area get into the business of business.

Chief Billy Diamond was guest speaker at the April 2 official opening of the Waubetek Business Development Centre on the Whitefish Reserve.

Diamond is best known as president of Air Creebec Inc., a regional airline in northern Quebec and Ontario.

His advice for the native development corporation was practical. "It's a matter of finding your niche and using it to your advantage."

Business has opened many new doors for natives, Diamond said. "Business opportunities have certainly gotten us into places where we never had access before."

In Diamond's case, some of the doors have been opened on Bay Street, Ontario Hydro and the Japanese industrial giant Yamaha, which is involved in a joint venture for the construction of fibreglass boats in his home community of Rupert House, Que.

Diamond also noted with a smile that there is probably not one meeting of the board of Air Canada during which the fast-growing Air Creebec airline is not discussed.

Indian business growth is occurring because of changing attitudes and recognition that native-made products are safe and reliable, he said. "I think people realize Indians can operate business."

Air Creebec has become a symbol of native success in business.

"It is the most visible economic development simply because it flies in the air," said Diamond.

It is also the most controversial, because it is in competition with non-native business, he said. "A lot of people have said, `You're an Indian. What are you doing competing?'"

Diamond answers that there are no limits to what people can do with their imaginations, whether they are native or non-native.

Always the businessman, he joked there was another reason for his visit to Birch Island. "This area has lots of water and I've got boats for sale."

On a more serious note, he said there can be extra difficulty for native businessmen who are often representing their communities, not just themselves. "Certainly, there are a lot of jealousies and hatreds created because of the profile one person gets."

Aside from Air Creebec, some of Diamond's other duties are as vice-president of the commercial entities Cree Co. and the Cree Construction Co.

He was also involved in the development of WEDCO, a holding company used by his band for numerous economic development projects.

In his home community, he was band manager in the 1960s and served as chief from 1970 to 1976.

On the political side, Diamond was a founding member of the Grand Council of the Crees, and he served as its Grand Chief from 1974 to 1984.

He was also the prime mover and signatory of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement and the Cree-Naskapi Act on behalf of the Cree people of Northern Quebec. He served as the chairman of the Cree Regional Authority from 1976 to 1984.

Diamond was involved in the Canadian constitutional talks in 1982 and 1983, which resulted in significant changes regarding native rights.

He has also participated in subcommittees in the United Nations dealing with aboriginal groups.

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Title Annotation:Billy Diamond
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Native business centre tackles financing problems.
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