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Family, community responsibility key to Boucher's business success.

Chief Jim Boucher is synonymous in business circles with unequivocal success. Boucher was recently recognized for his entrepreneurial spirit by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business when he was inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame on Feb. 18.

"For a small guy from a small town, it's quite a thrill to be inducted," Boucher said humbly.

The honor was doubly gratifying, he said, because of the pride Boucher saw on his daughter's face at the induction ceremony.

She had to sacrifice a lot for the success he has experienced, Boucher explained. He is the elected chief of Fort McKay First Nation in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta. It's a position he has held since 1986, and his tenure has been critical to the development of economic diversity for the band, and instrumental to its sustainability into the future.

As CEO of Fort McKay Group of Companies (FMGC), Boucher oversees business dealings for about 25 companies, mostly linked to oil sands development, including environmental consultation, with revenues of about $700 million annually. For reference, the FMGC did $60 million in 1996, evidence of the incredible growth realized under Boucher's command.

Boucher also serves as president of First North Catering Ltd., Fort McKay Developments Ltd., General Contacting Ltd., Environment Service Ltd., General Stores Ltd., Transportation Ltd., Trucking Ltd., Terracon McKay Ltd. and is chair/president of the Athabasca Tribal Corporation.

"As time went on we developed our capacity and we increased the service load that we had," Boucher said.

"We also decided we needed to do some joint ventures, because we didn't have the capacity, so we teamed up with companies that had the management experience," he said.

Fort McKay has projected there is 800-million barrels of oil in its territory, regarded by Boucher to be the source of long-term opportunity and the foundation on which to elevate the small community to another level.

Raised by his grandparents, they instilled in him a great sense of family and community pride and responsibility, which has, in turn, informed Boucher's business philosophy.

"My grandparents taught me a lot about values and respect, and that is what I carry around with me every day," he said.

He describes his philosophy as "corporate socialism," and insists the greater community is the greatest shareholder in all of McKay's endeavors.

"As directors we talk about our values and visions. We say people are our greatest resource, and make meaningful value statements and we follow those statements," Boucher said proudly.

This softer approach to capitalism might have been engrained in a younger Boucher when he took an activist approach against a government and industry unwilling to grant his community a share in Athabasca's oil sands development.

His passion and commitment to the well-being of his people, who were facing unemployment and rising poverty rates, led him to organize a blockade ending corporate industry access to traditional lands, which led to solidifying land agreements and treaty entitlement agreements that aided the rise of Fort McKay as a major player in the oil patch.

"Our community and First Nations people were not seen as part of the radar with respect to economic activity or even with regard to consultations on impacts that affect us or our community," Boucher said.

"We had to take a stand at that point in time; we had to send a message to the government and industry that they can't overrun us."

"We wanted to protect a viable thriving economic opportunity at that time, as well as our traditions and our culture," he said.

Boucher chuckles about it now, and said it was kind of a thrill to have the Fort McKay story told internationally, but wouldn't understate the importance of protecting economic interests.

Chief Boucher is not only a champion of the land rights of his people, he has also devoted his time to promoting education in his community.

"Whatever we can do to strengthen education systems in our community we should be doing," said Boucher, who believes an educated community is a healthy community.

His support for Keyano College in Fort McMurray, among other things, sends a clear message to community members about the important role education plays in personal and professional development.

And by solid investments in education, Chief Boucher predicts the entrepreneurial spirit of Aboriginal people will rise higher in the future.

He believes the Aboriginal population will be a major player in economic activity across Canada over the next 20 years.

"I think Aboriginal people are very entrepreneurial; it's a spirit we were raised in from the hunting and trapping days," Boucher said.

From activist, to social leader, to education advocate, to philanthropist to business developer, Boucher is a role model for future First Nations leaders, and the coming generations of his people.

But Boucher is quick to brush off his personal successes, and attributes his accomplishments to the greater community, his people.

"My success is a result of the people working together," he said.

There is no doubt, however, that Chief Boucher is as progressive in the boardroom as he is in the development of Fort McKay.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Jim Boucher
Author:Phalen, Chris
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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