Seeing is believing for the people of the Tsuut’ina Nation

Over 50 years in the making: Taza Development Corp and Tsuut’ina Nation continue to work towards empowerment and economic prosperity through ‘Taza.’

By Kristy Archibald | June 21, 2021 |7:00 am

Above, the elders of the Tsuut’ina nation photographed at the blessing ceremony when Costco, the first tenant in the Taza development opened its doors — marking the symbolic moment that ‘something wondrous is coming.’

Photo: Taza Development Corp. // Submitted

The Tsuut’ina Nation has been working for over 50 years to transform their land in a way that would spark economic development and innovative advancements for their people. On August 28, 2020, Costco opened its doors as the first tenant of the Taza development in the ‘Shops at Buffalo Run’ retail centre – marking a pivotal moment of growth and future prosperity for the nation. 

As one of the largest First Nation development projects in North America, the legacy of Taza prioritizes environmental social governance, while creating strategic partnerships that focus on building economic self-sufficiency of the community. 

“We want to break down those barriers, whether they’re visible or not, and provide members of the nation the tools and support they need to become entrepreneurs, grow through opportunities, and really get their feet under them,” says Bryce Starlight VP of development at Taza Development Corp and Tsuut’ina representative. 

People first, reconciliation second 

As Canderel and Tsuut’ina celebrate the 5-year milestone of their burgeoning partnership that produced Taza Development Corp., they know it’s important to keep a clear eye on their objectives as this historical development unfolds. 

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“We need to take care of our people first,” Starlight tells us. He adds that generating revenue and opportunities are at the forefront of their big picture goals, and creating reconciliation is secondary. 

“We have to look at it from the lens of ‘we’re doing this for the Tsuut’ina people and whatever models, whatever solutions happen as a result of that — that’s the reconciliation that happens, but it’s not our primary focus.” 

Let’s dive in… 

The inception of the ring road and even with the ring road vote, a lot of the rationale for nation members to say ‘yes’ was that it would kick off a new way or a new type of development that the community couldn’t get initiated without it, Starlight explains. 

However, with the reward of Taza, the ring road is still contentious — no matter what the rationale was.

“It was never really about the money, it was more a feeling that we were going to be pushed aside by a large city and the nation had no say in it,” says Starlight. “By doing the development and creating a harder edge where we actually control those lands and we control the economy there, it actually helps us feel like we’re empowered to take control of our own destiny and not be told what to do.” 

To bring Taza to life, the nation scoured through over 40 developers as they searched for a genuine partnership that included equity in the development and a direct participatory role, Starlight explains. 

“Canderel really came through and led the pack in that respect. Since then it’s been five years of master planning, working alongside each other to free up some of those encumbrances that were set up by the Indian Act to get to the point where we’re at today. 

Behind the name ‘Taza’ 

As with every detail, Starlight and his team are in constant dialogue with the nation to get things right and maintain the overall goals of the nation through the development. 

“For the name, we wanted to find something short and punchy — and if you know the Tsuut’ina language it’s anything but,” Starlight says. “So we eventually came across this word ‘Taza’, which means ‘wow, something amazing is coming.’”

As part of their due diligence, they took the name back to a group of elders — who in the beginning had never heard of the word at all. Starlight tells us that they brought in one of the brothers who is a language expert in the nation to decipher where the word had come from. 

After much deliberation, Starlight’s uncle proceeded to explain the story that they had been referring to. 

He said that it’s a very old word. The word itself means wonders, but when a kid looked up into the sky, it was something that was beyond words — something beyond reckoning was coming. It was so wonderful that he couldn’t even fathom what exactly it could be.

“As we were listening to the story, my team and I were like ‘oh my god, this is exactly what we’re doing — we can’t even comprehend what we’re doing because it’s so amazing and so wondrous’ and it was then we knew that this was the right word,” Starlight says. 

Starlight’s uncle gifted the word “Taza” to use for the development. 

Costco led the way in saying ‘something amazing is coming’

Through everything from hiring almost a third of their staff from the nation to opening up their policies to the community, Starlight tells us that they were the ones that really helped get this off the ground and establish that credibility within the Calgary market. 

“Even up to the day that Costco opened, I think the Tsuut’ina people always had this sense of ‘is this really going to happen.’” 

A fair statement for a nation that had been told for the last 20 to 30 years that a group would come in and do all these amazing things, and then nothing ever happens. 

“So for us, our major goal wasn’t getting the last store opened, or getting halfway — it was that first one,” Starlight says. “Until we can actually show some tangible proof that we are going to deliver on what we say and that we’re actually developing something that allows for future continuous growth, then the nation has every right and responsibility to be skeptical of how we’re implementing things.”  

“Now that we’ve got Costco open, there’s a lot more understanding that this doesn’t happen overnight, but also that there is a purpose and momentum here.”

What’s next? 

Starlight tells us that The ‘Shops at Buffalo Run’ is targeted to open by late 2022 with a full opening in 2023. Taza Park and Eagle Landing, two additional retail centres at Taza will also be announcing anticipated open dates while securing tenants in those spaces over the next few weeks.

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Kristy Archibald

Contributor at Calgary Citizen

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