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Natives, Bay Street form country’s largest farm

In what might be viewed as an odd pairing, investors from Bay Street will unite with a group of native chiefs from Saskatchewan and Alberta, to use their interests and resources to create a one-million-acre farming operation.

March 26, 2009  By Globe and Mail

March 26, 2009

The image of the typical farmer handed down through our national mythology is not that of an investment banker in a suit, nor is it that of a native chief in traditional dress.

But in Saskatoon today, Bay Street investors and a group of chiefs from Saskatchewan and Alberta will formally announce the unlikeliest of marriages, one that will make them the most influential farmers in all of
Canada, with a super-sized one-million-acre operation that could rival the largest corporate farms in the world.


Under the plan, 17 native bands will lease their land at market value to a new entity called One Earth Farms Corporation, which will focus on sustainable, environmentally responsible land use, hire and train aboriginal workers, and provide first nations an equity stake in the company.

The project is being funded with $27.5-million from Toronto-based Sprott Resources Corp.

Its founder, investment guru Eric Sprott, will also donate $1-million to the University of Saskatchewan to create a scholarship fund for aboriginal students to study agriculture.

The farm will be spread in pods of about 20,000 acres across a huge territory, and will encompass both cattle ranching and grain and oilseed cultivation. The 17 bands involved have all signed letters of intent to work with One Earth Farms, but not all of the one-million acres will be signed over in the first year.

Still, with even the largest Canadian farms in the range of 20,000 acres, One Earth will instantly be among the biggest players in the country's $40-billion farm sector.

"There's tremendous opportunity in partnering with first nations," Sprott Resource CEO Kevin Bambrough said.

"I can't believe the situation has gone on as long as it has, that no one has taken advantage of the opportunity."

With bands in Manitoba and British Columbia eager to sign on, the venture could double in size in the months ahead, the company said. It would not release the names of its 17 signatories, but they include the Little Black Bear, Muskowekan and Thunderchild bands.

Most of the land for the project is already being used for agriculture.

Blaine Favel, a Harvard MBA and former Saskatchewan grand chief, is a company director who grew up on a farm on the Poundmaker reserve.

"I view this on a continuum of first nations agricultural ambition," he said. "When they signed treaties, first nations people wanted to be on the land because they had to transition away from the buffalo. When some of them had success, obstacles were put in their way by government. But Indians have always tried to farm."

Agriculture was mentioned in all of the numbered treaties signed by the Crown on the Prairies, but as historian Sarah Carter has shown, federal Indian agents pursued a policy that restricted natives to peasant subsistence farming.

They weren't permitted to use labour-saving devices and were restricted from selling their grain on the open market, forcing many out of farming.

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