Business In Vancouver: Squamish spokesman helps build prosperous future

Jan 21, 2016

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Ian Campbell, hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, was a member of the first cohort of the Executive MBA in Indigenous Business and Leadership.

Ian Campbell, hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation, was a member of the first cohort of the Executive MBA in Indigenous Business and Leadership.

The following article was published by Business In Vancouver on January 15.

By Nelson Bennett.

When he was 17 and fresh out of high school, Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell jumped at the chance to spend two months living with the Mapuche people in Chile as part of an indigenous peoples’ exchange funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The welcome he got his first night in post-Pinochet Chile, which was still something of a police state, wasn’t quite what he expected.

“We were thrown against the wall, with guns to our heads,” Campbell said. “We were like, ‘OK, welcome to Chile.’”

But that wasn’t Campbell’s first experience with police pointing guns at him. He experienced that growing up on reserve in North Vancouver.

“There were very negative interactions with police, where they were pulling their guns on us as youth, and beating us up and calling us racial names,” he said. “There was quite a bit of racism back then, growing up, that really frustrated me to want to get more involved in leadership and politics and changing this narrative of Canada.”

The 42-year-old hereditary chief went on to develop a skill set that combines traditional knowledge with business and political acumen and an ambition to bridge cultural and economic gaps.

He is one of only a dozen Squamish First Nation members who are fluent in the Squamish language, and his business education includes an executive MBA.

He pursued counselling and youth studies at Langara College, later attended the Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education program at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business and last year capped off his education with an executive MBA from Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.

It’s that mix of traditional knowledge, ambition and education that led Chief Gibby Jacob to tap Campbell in 1999 to serve as a lead negotiator in the Squamish Nation’s office of intergovernmental relations, natural resources and revenue.

“He was my first hire,” Jacob said. “That was a direct hire – I didn’t go searching for anybody. I just knew what I needed and he was the guy. I was very impressed with how he carried himself, handled speaking to the public, his knowledge of our territory and language and traditions.”

The general public can be forgiven for thinking Campbell is the chief of the Squamish Nation; he is, after all, one of 16 hereditary chiefs. But he’s not the chief.

The Squamish Nation has no chief. According to the custom election system it adopted in 1981, the Squamish – a confederation of 16 groups – has an elected council and two co-chairs, but no elected chief.

Campbell is the Squamish nation’s official spokesman and ambassador, however.

“I’m a hereditary chief and I’m a political spokesperson and elected rep,” he said. And since so much of what he does involves economic development, you could also say he’s a businessman.

Born and raised on the Eslha7an reserve around the Mosquito Creek Marina in North Vancouver, Campbell (whose Squamish name is Xalek), was groomed by his grandfather, Chief Lawrence Baker, from a young age to inherit his title.

“My parents separated at a young age, when I was three and a half, so I kind of circulated around with my mom, then my dad, then my grandparents. But I always went back to my grandparents.”

As the future heir to the hereditary chief’s title, Campbell was brought up learning to speak the Squamish language. He and his sister are among only about a dozen Squamish members who are fluent in the language, he said.

“My grandfather also brought me out onto the land quite a bit from a young age – mountaineering, hunting, fishing, getting up there into the territory where he shared a lot of the mythology, the history, the old villages, the lineages that connect our people and our ancestral names to the territories.”

Campbell’s work with the Squamish Nation’s intergovernmental relations, natural resources and revenue office includes governmental affairs and economic development.

“We’ve been sort of the one-stop shop where we wear a number of hats: political, negotiator and then business implementation,” he said, adding that one of the Squamish government’s priorities will be to separate the office’s two functions and establish an arm’s-length economic development office.

And there is a lot of economic development happening in Squamish territory. A number of major initiatives are in the works, including the $1.7 billion Woodfibre LNG plant proposed for the town of Squamish.

Read the full article on the BIV website.