After growing up in the Columbia Valley, Heather Rennebohm said she is happy to have returned to the area and to be starting her new role as the economic development officer for the Akisqnuk First Nation, announced earlier last month.
“I think the thing that excites me about community development is that its one step at a time,” she said of her new opportunity. “If there’s going to be an issue or a gap in a community, then it’s getting the community together to address or solve that problem locally and using local resources to do so. I really love that.”
Although she may now have a position focused on economic and community development, it wasn’t always that way as Rennebohm initially started her career as a microbiologist. It wasn’t long, though, before she transitioned her career into the health care sector and then the non-profit sector when she took a position at Goodwill Industries — a social enterprise focused on reusing solid waste for societal good.
It was there that she established her roots in community development working for the Dene tribe in Northern Alberta on a job training and employment placement program where she began to understand the intricacies of business and community development.
“It’s one individual or one business or one project at a time and it’s all about problem solving,” she said. “I really love the one individual at a time because you can build relationships with people and I really enjoy the problem solving part.”
Working with Goodwill, Rennebohm was able to work with the Dene people before spending time in Oklahoma working with the Chickasaw people on community development projects, which provides her good experience to work with the Akisqnuk in the future, she said.
“For the Akisqnuk, there is huge potential for careful and thoughtful business development to increase individual member capacity and increase the overall community’s prosperity,” she said. “For me, it’s the idea of bringing that potential to reality.”
Rennebohm said she moved back to the Valley nearly two years ago, taking freelance work while assisting on the Vital Signs survey that details the current state of the Columbia Valley community. It was after that that the position for economic development officer opened and she quickly responded. She said part of the appeal of this new position is the strong connection she feels she has already with the business community within the Akisqnuk.
“It has to have a purpose, it’s not just business for business,” she said. “It’s business with a purpose and business with a consideration for the land, history and other values. I think that that is not only honourable on the part of Akisqnuk, but timely to look at how business considers its impact on environment and land.”
Rennebohm said she has already discussed with the Akisqnuk their four main priorities for economic development in 2016. Among them will be looking at developing small business both off and on reserve throughout the area, along with constructing a recreation and well-being centre in the administrative area on the reserve. Expanding the Lakeshore Campground will be the Akisqnuk’s large project for the upcoming year in addition to making their lot designated for commercial use open to the public for businesses that will offer full-time year-round jobs for the Akisqnuk and others.