CALGARY - A former Department of Indian Affairs employee has accused the department to deliberately trying to "break" the Blood Band housing company, Kainai Industries.
Former Economic Development Co-ordinator Robert Laboucane said in an interview this week that a letter sent to chiefs and councillors of bands across the west inviting them to purchase housing built by Atco for the Calgary Winter Olympic Games was deliberately undermining the small constructin company located near Standoff on the Blood Reserve.
The letter, sent in September by DIA Alberta Regional Director General Dennis Wallace invites bands to a two-day session to meet with Atco representatives in Edmonton. The units will cost approximately $45,000 each plus transportation from Atco's Calgary plant.
"These units have been viewed by CMHC and INAC staff and have been found to be of excellent quality and design. In my opinion, your band should give strong consideration to purchase these units," said Wallace in the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Windspeaker.
Wallace goes on to say that "in addition to being good quality homes, the delivery of these units by June 1988 would mean that your 1988-89 housing project will be completed early and planning for the subsequent year would begin in the fall of 1989." Laboucane estimates that about 300 out of the 800 units scheduled to be built by Atco will end up on the Alberta Indian reserve market.
"That will put Kainai Industries out of business," he said.
Laboucane feels that by aiding Atco's bid to sell the housing to Indian reserves, the department is deliberately trying to push the successful Blood industry toward bankruptcy.
"The Department has purposefully gone out of its way to see Indian businesses are underfunded and therefore guaranteed to go out of business. In the last 50 years not one business funded by the Department is in business today," said Laboucane.
"But this strategy didn't work with Kainai Industries," he added. "And if they (Kainai Industries) had been able to get into the Olympics, that would mean they would become a valuable business so they did not accept their bid."
However, Kainai Industries Senior Manager Fred Van Ry says he feels Laboucane is overreacting and that Kainai Industries is currently negotiating with OCO '88 (Olympiques Calgary Olympics) on other housing plans.
"The Atco housing might to some extent eat into our market," said Van Ry in an interview Tuesday. "But we are still getting business."
Van Ry says he feels any publicity might create a situation that could "backfire" and cause "ill feeling" between the company and the Department of Indian Affairs. However, he added that he would keep a sharp eye on the situation and report
to Blood chief and council when the need arises.
The $18.3 million housing contract was awarded to Atco last December by OCO officials but has been embroiled in controversy ever since.
Jenkins, an award-winning architect, claimed at the time that senior OCO staff
had blocked his request to explain his proposal to the OCO board of directors.
Jenkins and other competitors later complained that the $18.3 million Atco price tag had an offset of $13.3 million in rent expected to be received from journalists using the facilities during the Games. However, other bids were only offset by a total of $2.4 million.
The other controversy is known as the "Lougheed connection." According to the Calgary Herald, before Peter Lougheed stepped down as premier he had interceded with Calgary's Mayor Ralph Klein over the Atco contract by somehow "arranging" an invitation for Klein to view the Atco facilities.
Lougheed now sits on the Atco board of directors and is also the honourary chairman of OCO, which has originally awarded the housing contract to Atco.
Meanwhile, the 70 Kainai Industry employees, 64 of whom are Native, await the wranglings of the Department of Indian Affairs and OCO '88. The Blood reserve has an unemployment rte of about 80 per cent.
Department officials J. Tighe, who is overseeing the Atco housing proposal, was unavailable for comment at press time.