Thompson Rivers University

Law students get an inside look at Indigenous business

March 1, 2023

Taxation implications, land-use legalities, Charter rights, codified reconciliation — if a law student needed a firsthand lesson in what’s happening in on the BC legal landscape, then Troy Young would be a prime mentor. Thompson Rivers University law students got a chance to sit down with Young and talk with him about his decades of industrial development in an Indigenous context.

Young is president, director and general manager at Roga Group, a forestry contracting company that works with Indigenous partners and is an umbrella to several businesses that include Roga Contracting Ltd., Kyah Resources Inc, REHN Enterprises Ltd., Marwest Utility Services, Nuxwi Ventures and Way Key Contracting.

In a presentation he called A View into a Leading Company, Young didn’t hold back about where he came from, how his business interests grew, and how his fleet of heavy machinery and First Nations partnerships are plowing new ground into the B.C. future for Indigenous prosperity. It was a  package of truths TRU Law Sessional faculty member Murray Sholty knew would inform and inspire the students.

“Troy shared his thoughts on First Nations business opportunities and challenges,” said Sholty.

“For a business owner who has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over his career, I thought he might hold back the secret source (how he did it). My reasoning was that prior to attending law school and now teaching at TRU Law, I worked in the natural resource sector, which included logging, silviculture and woodlot management. I was first employed as a tree planter, then ran my own silviculture crews, and eventually owned and managed a timber harvesting company. That sector, in my experience, shares information very sparingly. However, I was wrong. Troy didn’t hold back. He provided detailed knowledge that will be extremely useful to our law students in their careers moving forward.”

Business spans the province

Roga Group started with a single logging truck that Young’s father used to launch his business when his son was still young. Troy Young was brought in to work, then manage, then own Roga, expanding all the while and using Roga as a foundation on which First Nations could start their own independent industrial companies. Young would help get them up and running, working alongside them, then let go when the time was right.

Young’s roots are with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation from Hagwilget Village. He has lived in a variety of places, attended the University of Victoria and is now based in Prince George. But his company’s activities span the province.

Roga is one of B.C.’s largest logging contractors by volume, with facilities in Kamloops, Prince George, Houston, Campbell River and Port Alberni. It has many equally co-owned companies that are 100 per cent Indigenous-owned. Young recently handed off LTN Contracting to the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation after fostering its growth with them for 22 years.

The flagship joint venture in the collection is Kyah Resources Inc. which Young co-owns with Witset First Nation. It is consists of heavy equipment for timber harvesting and civil construction and has a track record of doing a variety of equipment-based work.

Many lessons to be had

The company resume is interesting enough, but for students of the law, there are key lessons from Young. How to structure a joint venture. How to maximize tax advantage for an entire venture when part of it is Indigenous-owned. How to avoid becoming a legislative check-box when dealing with a non-Indigenous proponent.

But it goes deeper than that. Young said he was brought up among Wet’suwet’en leaders who successfully walked the Delgamuukw-Gisdaywa case right through to the Supreme Court of Canada where it changed the shape of Canada-First Nations relations.

Young is involved in transformative legal cases through the work of his companies. For example, his businesses are involved on the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory that galvanized protestors. Through his companies, Indigenous people are gaining employment and Indigenous communities are gaining legacy capacity. But he also believes the protestors are right in that non-Indigenous companies and governments must be held to account for land-use and resource-based decisions.

When the BC government established new industrial hiring policies that seemed to favour certain labour groups at the expense of the autonomy of the First Nations on the lands of proposed projects, there was a perceived breach of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) legislation and other reconciliation-based policy.

“License transfers on the coast are being negotiated,” Young told the students. “The government appointed Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers to do a commission and report recommending ways to protect workers when contract tendering and the transfer of cutting and timber-harvesting rights fall outside of the successorship provision in Section 35 of the Labour Relations Code. Their finding was that status quo remains and the nations must accept, based on case history around successorship. I expect a court challenge.”

Pinch points are opportunities

“Gitxalla Nation is challenging the provincial mineral tenure regime, which grants mineral rights through an online system without Indigenous consultation or consent,” he explained.

“The impacts can range, and affect most if not all Indigenous nations and communities throughout the province. BC’s current practice of automatically granting mineral rights online without notification, consultation or consent from affected nations is inconsistent with both its Constitutional duties to Indigenous nations and UNDRIP. It makes sense to include nations prior to any form of exploration, because it would allow exploration companies to not spend funds on areas that can never be developed. This would reduce animosity between the nations and the mining community.” 

In closing, Young stressed that these legal pinch points were better characterized as opportunities than animosities. Legal clarity is good for the economy and all players in the use of the BC land base.

“It has been a pleasure to reflect on the importance of engaging with First Nations early and often, so we can work to bring industry, government and numerous other stakeholders together to ensure sustainable and equitable development of natural resources,” he said.

“Whether or not you enter the field of Indigenous law or go into business with a First Nation, I urge you to consider how you may contribute to economic reconciliation. I encourage you to apply some of the lessons from Roga’s experience in your daily work and invite you to reach out to me directly as you navigate this complex but rewarding new territory.”

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