Wil Jimmy

Proposed utility corridor revealed at Indigenous economic conference

“Right now, we’re still at the planning stage. And we figure that in the next year or so we’re doing our two studies that are very important.” — Wil Jimmy with WJ Strategic Partnerships

By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A man sits at a table in a restaurant. Flower arrangements are on tables. He smiles into the camera.
Wil Jimmy of WJ Strategic Partnerships presented the NeeStaNan Utility Corridor concept at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference on Nov. 22 in Toronto.

For the most part, Wil Jimmy has been keeping details about a big venture pretty much under wraps the past few years.

But the account relationship manager for WJ Strategic Partnerships revealed plans for the NeeStaNan Utility Corridor on Nov. 22.

Jimmy offered information on the western Canada corridor that will deliver natural resources to both national and international markets if planning goes well in the next few years.

The new corridor would consist of new pipeline, hydroelectric, rail and seaport infrastructure.

His presentation on the corridor was delivered during a keynote address at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference, which concluded on Nov. 23 in Toronto.

Jimmy’s keynote was titled Indigenous Led, Indigenous Owned—The New Face of Indigenous Infrastructure Projects in Canada.

Neestanan means All Of Us in Cree. Jimmy said the concept of the corridor in the Prairies was hatched five years ago during a meeting with a handful of other Indigenous business people.

“We were just spit-balling and throwing ideas out,” he said. “That’s how NeeStaNan was born, over a glass of wine.”

NeeStaNan reps believe that commodities in the Prairies, including oil, wheat and potash, are landlocked throughout western Canada. Sending these resources to international markets is costly and they believe can be done much more efficiently.

NeeStaNan officials are hoping to construct a corridor from oil sands in Alberta to a new seaport in the former Manitoba settlement of Port Nelson on the shores of Hudson Bay near York Factory.

Jimmy, a member of Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, had previously spent a couple of decades in the banking industry.

He believes the NeeStaNan corridor will eventually become a huge success.

“Right now, we’re still at the planning stage,” he said. “And we figure that in the next year or so we’re doing our two studies that are very important.”

For starters, there is an environmental study that needs to be done to assess impacts of the proposed corridor.

Jimmy said First Nations whose communities will be along the corridor have also requested that a social impact study be completed.

“Once economic wealth starts coming into our communities, it can have a negative effect,” Jimmy said. “And the communities that we have spoken to have said we want to be prepared for this so we can plan as to how we’re going to prepare our communities so we can take advantage of this on the positive sides.”

Though both studies need to be completed before any other work can commence, Jimmy said results from the social impact study are of prime relevance.

“That’s more important than the environmental one,” he said. “The environmental one we know we have to do that. But the key thing is that social impact study because that is how it’s going to prepare our people before economic wealth going forward.”

Shortly after results of the social impact study are compiled, Jimmy is hoping NeeStaNan officials can release them.

“Once we present these finding to these communities, then we can actually start going to engineering companies and start getting quotes in terms of how much is this going to cost to upgrade the rail line, sign partnerships with the different oil companies, natural gas companies, the pipeline companies,” he said. “We’ve done all the research. Now it’s important to prepare all those communities of what’s going to happen going forward.”

Jimmy said the Indigenomics Bay Street conference, held at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, was an ideal place to share details of the proposed corridor.

“It was designed to showcase what we Indigenous people are doing, and how we are participating and how we are taking ownership of ourselves and of our projects,” he said.

Jimmy also felt his phone just might start ringing off the hook following his keynote.

“I think that the interest has definitely been spiked,” he said. “The interest and the inquiries are going to start coming in.”

And he’s fine with that since he believes more and more Indigenous projects should start popping up across the country.

“It’s our time to rise up and start taking advantage of what has been given to us,” he said.

The Indigenomics Bay Street conference featured Indigenous leaders from the corporate and private sectors discussing numerous topics about the Indigenous economy in Canada. Several government officials were also part of the panels and presentations at the conference.

Proposed utility corridor revealed at Indigenous economic conference