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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Caldwell First Nation embarks on ambitious strategic plan

submitted to EFP

After ratifying a historic land claim settlement in 2010, Caldwell First Nation was faced with a number of choices. Importantly, what were they going to do with the land that they were to purchase? After acquiring a number of properties for sale in the Leamington area, the time had arrived for significant land development planning to be formalized. Some of the properties are along Mersea Road 1 and Bevel Line Rd., which form only a fraction of Caldwell’s traditional territory, leading to another significant area in Caldwell’s history, and what is now known as Point Pelee National Park.

Caldwell First Nation Council consists of four elected members of Council and a Chief, and has an administrative staff of 25+, which is a rapid growth from the mere six staff members the Nation had as recently as March 2018.

With a Land Use Planning Study underway with First Nation Engineering Services Ltd., which focuses on residential, institutional, and commercial development goals of the community, Council and staff engaged Sisco & Associates Consulting Services to help Council put their visions into two strategic documents. This work occurred between March and August 2019.

The documents produced were an extensive Economic Development Plan and a Community Comprehensive Plan. The planning process took a community-based and participatory approach ,which included Caldwell citizen consultation, strategic planning sessions, focus groups, logic modelling, and follow-up presentations.

“This process truly was a holistic and intensive approach,” stated Director of Operations, Nikki van Oirschot, “and it wouldn’t have been possible without a full complement of dedicated and skilled staff, coupled with a Council supportive of its staff, change, and progressiveness. Without this, we would not be able to fortify these plans and start carrying out the work. Due to our unique circumstances as a Nation with no current Reserve system in place, we have had to work hard in order to create a vision that is our own, and most importantly, community-driven and achievable.”

The community documents were presented to Council in January 2020 and voted upon in a unanimous vote of Council members present.

“This plan was community-driven and the result of hard work, community feedback, and thoughtful and thorough planning,” stated Caldwell’s Council “We came together and asked ourselves what the future of Caldwell First Nation could look like. We had a blank slate in terms of development and endless potential to put the Nation’s wants, needs, dreams, and desires onto paper. We dove into the research, had many conversations, looked at best practices, and determined what makes us unique as a community in terms of the story of our Nation, and our geography as Canada’s most southern mainland Nation. That set the foundation to put together a plan that will create a thriving economy for our citizens, the opportunities to tell our own stories, and a way to showcase that. We are often referred to as a small Nation, however, our thinking and our goals are not, and our strength and resilience has persisted through the generations.”

Out of the Economic Development Plan came strategic priorities that are to be carried out by Caldwell First Nation Administration. The ambitious priorities involve the development of an Indigenous Tourism Hub of businesses - including the recently re-branded “Three Fires: A First Nation Culinary Experience” led by Chef Billy Alexander, a plan for self-sustainability and self-governance, supporting a mixed economy, and the creation of an urban reserve.

“We are excited to be able to see these plans come to fruition and are grateful to the Caldwell citizens and to the staff for being instrumental in the development and execution of these very exciting initiatives,” stated Caldwell’s Council.

“I feel strongly that Council and the Nation have worked hard to produce industry-leading documents that are supported by research and will showcase the strength and potential of the Nation,” explained van Oirschot. “We know the plans are reflective of two years of research, planning, conversations, and visioning and are reflected in a progressive and ambitious plan. These documents will create an environment of strength and versatility for the Nation for generations.”

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