By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Justin Bourque, the CEO of Willow Lake Métis Nation in Anzac, Alta., received an “Innovator” award from the Junior Achievers (JA) Northern Alberta Business Hall of Fame at an Oct. 19 gala.
“I don’t even know if there’s words to truly explain the feeling,” Bourque told Alberta Native News. “It’s monumental for me.”
He said he was “quite floored [and] taken aback” when he received a phone call from Jennifer Martin, the president and CEO of JA Northern Alberta & N.W.T. to let him know he won.
“An individual told me they were going to submit me as an applicant for this award, and I never really thought much about it afterwards until receiving that call,” Bourque said.
But it wasn’t until the gala, where he was honoured in front of 600 Alberta business leaders, that the honour really set in.
“At that moment it really hit me, how big and important this really is,” Bourque said.
He said while the award is “gratifying” for him personally, it’s also a win for the Métis people.
“Today is the time of the Métis people. I truly believe everyone is listening and everybody wants to learn,” Bourque said. “To be a leader recognized in today’s time, it’s just heartwarming.”
But Bourque says he doesn’t consider himself any more innovative than any other First Nations or Métis Nation CEO.
“One of the things that is really innovative is the fact that we’re a self-governed Métis community that really has no parental organization, or financial support, or oversight from any governing agency or body,” he said.
“In order for us to create a sustainable future for our citizens, we’ve had to be able to do that with … our business savvy and our ability to operate on a corporate level, leveraging partnerships and creating values within those partnerships.”
One example of this is the Nation’s Sohkastwâwin, or “act of resilience” initiative, which was done in partnership with Suncor. The Nation purchased 205 acres of land in Anzac, which will include eco-bison ranch and local food source, community culture centre, Métis housing, and local power generation.
Bourque got his start working in the oil and gas industry, working his way up its ranks, which endowed him with skills he was able to transfer to his role serving the community he was raised in.
He said this experience allowed him to “connect the dots in terms of what the community’s desires and values are, and how that relates to industry.”
“I’ve always believed that there’s a strong alignment, we just haven’t really been able to work through that relationship to see where that alignment really lies.”
Martin called Bourque “an inspiring role model, full of energy and passionate about his work,” as well as a “promoter of change on behalf of the public good.”
“In his elected roles and as an active steward of his land, people and culture, Justin embodies the definition of a JA Innovator,” Martin added.