NationFUEL Initiative

The NationFUEL Initiative is leading the way toward Indigenous inclusion in the fuel and energy industry. Launched in 2016 by Dale Tsuruda, NationFUEL partners with First Nations to develop responsible and safe fuel/energy businesses for their communities. Tsuruda, a member of the Spuzzum First Nation, has decades of experience starting and scaling businesses. He started his first business with his father in the sawmill industry in the early 1980s. “We started with two phones, two desks, and a $30,000 second mortgage on the house,” Tsuruda recalls. By year ten, Tsuruda and his father were managing a 130 man sawmill and exporting $40 million in annual sales to mostly Japan. In 2000, they decided to exit the industry after Japan’s real estate correction, at which point Tsuruda’s father retired and Tsuruda decided to purchase a small fuel-delivery company called Denwill. The business evolved into Ironclad Logistics Group, officially began in 2002 as a small 10-person operation with one customer, Petro Canada. “Fast-forward to now, we employ over 110 people, we transport over 2 billion litres of fuel a year, and we manage over 350 gas and fueling stations for all the major oil and gas companies,” says Tsuruda. Along with impressive growth, Ironclad Logistics has built a strong reputation for safety and timeliness. Over the years they’ve won over 15 safety awards and achieved 99.98 percent on-time delivery. That record has helped Tsuruda and Ironclad build trust within the industry, customers, employees, and communities across Canada. That trust and the success Ironclad has experienced forms the foundation of NationFUEL’s success. Tsuruda launched NationFUEL as an initiative of Ironclad after being inspired by his daughter and his own journey to First Nations-status. “The question I began to ask myself was, ‘What can I do?” says Tsuruda. After the changes to the Indian Act introduced by Bill C-3, Tsuruda obtained First Nation-status in 2013. Around the same time, Tsuruda witnessed his oldest daughter engage with Indigenous communities while pursuing her education. “I watched her engage with First Nations communities in the area of public health, and I saw her making a difference. I started to wonder ‘What can I do? How can I add value?’ I’m just a business guy,” says Tsuruda. I N D I G E N O M I C S 1 0 T O W A T C H L I S T J U N E 2 0 1 9 | I N D I G E N O M I C S I N S T I T U T E ‘ S I N D I G E N O U S I N C L U S I O N Be engaged and get into business. Be a part of it and make it better” says Tsuruda. Tsuruda says he was shy in the beginning, but he quickly found his voice when Nation representatives and others encouraged him with support and engagement. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest that communities have had in wanting to work with me and join NationFuel,” he says. “Today, I have over 40 communities that I have an MOU relationship with. Of those 40, we have over 20 projects in the queue, and of those 20 projects we have 5 up and running.” It’s an impressive start, but Tsuruda’s goal is for all 634 First Nations communities in Canada to have the opportunity to benefit in a greater way from a variety of fuel and energy business opportunities. “In every territory there is opportunity,” says Tsuruda. Those opportunities range from building a new retail and gas station and/or cardlock to providing bulk fuel to industrial projects, forestry operations, and mines. Every community requires fuel and energy and so every community ought to be involved in the fuel and energy industry. NationFUEL exists to help communities get competitive fuel prices, to ensure that delivery and logistics and fairly priced, and to get community-run fuel businesses off the ground. “We bring the capacity and knowledge. We partner with a community through an MOU and guide them from feasibility study to bankable business plan to arranging capital. We get them into the fuel business,” says Tsuruda. Tsuruda sees himself as promoting business more than fuel. He believes communities should be shareholders and be in control of the industries that surround them. “If anybody is going to supply fuel to a mine, I want it to be the First Nation,” he says. “When the mine no longer needs fuel and can run on electricity, then we should be part of that. If there is opportunity for solar, wind, biomass, et cetera, we should be a part of that as well. If you use energy, be in the energy business. If you eat food, be in the food business. If you live in a home, be in the home construction business. If you live in community, be in the community infrastructure business.” That is Tsuruda’s message to communities and others engaged in the Indigenous economy. “Be engaged and get into business,” he says. “Be a part of it and make it better. When you’re in the boardroom you have an influence on how to make things better, how to keep people safer, how to protect the environment better and how to keep and how to improve how businesses function. The bottom line is I want communities in boardrooms because in the boardrooms we can make the world better. When communities are engaged in any boardroom, their perspective and their genuine respect and love of Mother Earth and their people and culture make our countries and all our businesses better.”