David Jimmie says he knew from a very early age that he wanted to do something for his community.
Now, as Chief of the Squiala First Nation, he’s helping guide the community in its transition from a small reserve on the outskirts of Chilliwack to a major player in the city’s economy.
“I knew at a young age that I would get involved in my community at some higher level,” he says.
“I don’t how to explain it, it’s just something you kind of know,” the quiet-spoken 34-year-old chief says. “It might have been from relationships within the community or it might have been the way I interacted with people, but I just sort of sensed I’d become involved.”
Jimmie says he was fortunate to be able to go to the University of the Fraser Valley, take on challenging work as a forest firefighter and as a teacher’s assistant, and then join a construction company developing properties on First Nations lands.
When the construction boom started to taper off in 2008, he says he decided it was a good time to follow a personal dream.
“I bought an around-the-world ticket and travelled to 17 countries in eight months,” he says.
That experience opened his eyes to the wider world, and gave him time to reflect on his own values and what is important to him.
“It was along that trip that I realized that I would come home and try to help in some way,” he says.
First, he was hired as the band’s lands manager, and in that position joined the Squiala negotiation team that hammered out an agreement with the Property Development Group that led to the multi-million dollar Eagle Landing shopping mall.
The 50/50 partnership kick-started the Squiala economy, created much-needed jobs in Chilliwack, and put the city front and centre on the retail map of the Fraser Valley.
But Jimmie felt his university education and construction experience gave him more to offer the band, so he ran for election as chief.
Now, he’s helping guide the band as it looks into a new corporate structure that will build on the success of Eagle Landing.
“We don’t want Eagle Landing to be it,” Jimmie says. “We want to always keep our eyes open if there’s opportunities somewhere else, investment-wise, or even in Chilliwack. There’s nothing stopping us from buying surrounding properties.”
Meanwhile, Eagle Landing also brought benefits to the larger Chilliwack community.
“Chilliwack is running out of space,” Jimmie says, and the development on Squiala land allowed new businesses to open here, keeping shoppers from spending their money elsewhere and creating much-needed jobs.
But Jimmie hopes his main accomplishment as chief will be as a role model for young Squiala band members.
“If I can do something like that, give the youth of the community something to see, that would be great,” he says.