Creeway Gas marks 20 year milestone
- Creeden Martell | January 24, 2021
It has been more than 20 years since Muskeg Lake Cree Nation (MLCN) opened the first ever gas station on an urban reserve.
“You could say in a lot of ways that it opened the door for other First Nations to develop and get their foot in the door,” Barrett Greyeyes, chief operating officer of the MLCN Investment Management Corporation said in a recent interview.
“It is a great thing because now the model has been copied all over the province and it’s starting in other places as well.”
Greyeyes remembers the opening of the business in the Sutherland neighbourhood of Saskatoon, when he was there as a 12-year-old in the lineup of vehicles at the fuel pumps.
“The market has changed and competition has increased. There’s a lot more bands with fuel stations in the city but we still keep on and run a good business,” Greyeyes said, reflecting on the work put into the business.
The Sutherland location is on the oldest urban reserve in the city and it has grown over the years, as a second location opened up on the city’s west side, at Whitney Avenue and 22nd Street.
The business employs about 40 people between the two locations but has employed about 60 or more people in the past.
Muskeg Lake’s economic development wing, “wrote the book on urban development,” for First Nation bands looking to expand their business interests into cities, Greyeyes said.
Tax exemption for treaty Indian status exists for certain goods and services, such as food, gasoline and tobacco, but the tax exemption is confined to First Nations land. Urban reserves grant status holders those savings in the city.
Muskeg Lake reached out to the City of Saskatoon to form an agreement in which the business would operate in the form of a treaty land entitlement, converting City land to reserve land and creating an urban reserve.
At the time of Treaty, Muskeg Lake received less land than they’d agreed to as a partner in the treaty. They were one of 25 bands that signed onto the 1992 Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) framework agreement with the federal government and the Province of Saskatchewanm, which compensated those First Nations for the land they had been shorted.
Muskeg Lake Cree Nation is part of Treaty Six and entered into the framework agreement with more than a dozen other bands in treaty 6 territory.
“Something that had never been done before, it took a lot of hard work and willing participants to get that done,” Greyeyes said.
More bands have since opened fuel stations and businesses in Saskatoon and throughout the province as a result of economic growth from the treaty land entitlements.
“It’s tough as a business. Everytime a new one pops up, it changes the way we do business and makes our margins tighter but … we’re well-run and well-managed,” he added.
Greyeyes said the increased competition is good for Indigenous customers in the areas, on the other hand.
The Cree-way business is what allowed Muskeg Lake to branch off into other areas of economic development, said Mike Icton, CEO of MLCN Investment Management.
“We set the tone for a level of service and professionalism,” Icton said of the businesses’ success and longevity.
The business’ two locations were able to continue operation through the COVID-19 pandemic economic shutdown as they were declared essential, but the pandemic’s sudden appearance made a significant and immediate impact.
The pandemic put a psychological strain on employees as well, Icton noted.
“The pandemic has been challenging,” Icton said. “Personally things they’re dealing with at home have been compounded.”
Cree-way was an early adopter of safety regulations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at both locations, Icton said. The quick response is one of the prouder business moments Icton said he can remember.
“One of the things I’m proud to say is we were one of the first … for businesses to react; we were operating well-beyond Sask Health’s recommendations long before anyone else,” Icton said.
Patrons were limited indoors, distancing was mandated and Icton feels it spurred competitors like Petro Canada and Suncor to take similar precautions.
Greyeyes estimates business has dropped by 30 per cent since the pandemic began, due to lower sales and fewer clients from the surrounding offices and businesses.
There were fewer fleet business vehicles fueling up as well. Another sales decrease occurred when schools closed down, which meant school buses were not fueling up.
Two decades is a milestone worth celebrating due to the people who dedicated their time and resources to get a business open and become an accomplished player in the local economy, Greyeyes said.
“It is an achievement that Muskeg Lake is pretty proud of as a whole, as a membership,” he said.