Economic Freedom: Breaking the Culture of Welfare Dependency


  Garreth Bloor

Chief Jerry Asp says any community can change its destiny in a message that reverberates around the world

For generations the Tahltan Nation of northern British Columbia (with a territory comprising 11% of the province’s landmass) endured the poverty and exclusion known to many First Nations in Canada. Inspired by the memory of a previously successful era of trading, pre-colonization, Chief Jerry Asp began a series of reforms to restore economic freedom, grounded in historic cultural values and norms.

In retelling a transformation of truly epic proportions, Chief Asp is often called to do so in his capacity as a business icon in Canada. Dig deeper and it is clear his leadership was focused on the social transformation of a people, in which markets were a vital means but not an end. Policymakers are taking note on the international stage.

In 1983 and 1984, 80% of the Tahltan Nation were on welfare and unemployment stood at 98%, following the dispossession of property and other human rights across spanning generations. Severe alcohol and drug problems characterized social life, along with high suicide rates and very low levels of educational attainment.

By 2013, it had all changed: 100% employment, zero suicides and an above-the-national-average graduation rate, from universities to trade schools.

Chief Asp was clear that wealth was always to be created and could never be taken. Federal funding was firmly declined and returned to the government, along with all conditions it required. (Many activists detail cautionary tales of the restrictive constraints accompanying government grants).

Today funds are independently generated in the marketplace. All that is contributed toward the general welfare is locally controlled: the Tahltan Heritage Trust Fund contains C$159 million (US$117 million) set aside for investment in education, environmental management, business opportunities, and future generations.

To empower a community of share owners, Chief Jerry Asp established the Tahltan Development Corporation in the 1980s. Today, it ranks in the top 5% of British Columbia-based businesses.

Equity rights and land titles were key components of wealth creation, including the tradability of those equity rights within the framework established by the Tahltan Central Government – undertaken to protect ‘’the Tahltan inherent aboriginal rights and title’’ and ‘’the eco-systems and natural resources of Tahltan traditional territory’’.

Traded rights have not only been an economic tool, but generated resources for improved environmental outcomes, with the protection of eco-systems a priority at the forefront of community life. The latest is the Tahltan’s a new 3,500-hectare conservancy adjoining the Mount Edziza Provincial Park.

Recently, Skeena Resources Limited and the Tahltan Central Government – who in a historic move now control their own development permitting – announced that they had entered into an investment agreement. The Tahltan Investment Corporation invested C$5 million into Skeena, by purchasing 1,597,138 Tahltan investment rights. The traded investment rights purchased are in turn owned directly by the community members as common shares, providing a direct stake in local projects acquired on the open market.

Chief Asp says we made ‘[p]rovision for the widest possible development of Tahltan business opportunities over which the developer may have control or influence.’’ Such was and remains the confidence in individuals to trade, establish businesses, and determine their destinies.

From 98% unemployment to zero, Chief Asp concludes his keynote addresses and presentations with a point of dignified pride and victorious optimism: ‘’We broke the welfare culture of the Tahltan Nation forever.’’ A single message reverberates not only across North America, but globally: ‘’If the Tahltan can do it, any Indigenous Nation can do it!’’


Garreth Bloor is a former executive politician in South Africa and currently resides in Toronto.


Grand Rapids Mike
Feb 16 2023 at 9:51am

What a wonderful story. In reading it one has to ask is this really true, sounds almost to good to be true. Hopefully it is. For a culture to transition from dependency to totally self sufficiency in such a short time is remarkable. Economists always seem to want to test their ideas, here is a shining example showing or attesting to the ideas of traditional economic ideals working from a starting point of zero.

Wonder where Chief Asp got his ideas of property rights, free markets etc. Was this part of his Nation’s tradition and \ was he influenced by Hayek, Friedman or someone else?

As indicated beyond the Tahltan Nation, this really provides a shining example of how market economics if properly implemented could change the nature of inner cities. Unfortunately it is impossible for this to occur, there is is way too many institutions who have sunk cost in failure.


Stefan Jacob
Feb 16 2023 at 10:44pm

I had the pleasure of working with Jerry Asp co-managing the Tahltan commercial fishery on the lower Stikine River just above the Alaskan border in the late 1980’s. Jerry hired me (a non-Tahltan with commercial fishery experience) to be co-manager with Willy Bob, a Tahltan from Telegraph Creek & Prince Rupert. Willy has just recently passed away, but for two years we managed the fishery together in complete wilderness more than 100 kilometers from the nearest road in British Colombia. Willy Bob was a great partner and as partners we successfully ran the fishery. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had. Another Tahltan leader, Veron Marion also helped with great expediting of supplies for the project. I recently wrote a book about those years and my time in the Stikine, called ‘Stikine Wild’ (on Amazon books).

Jerry has always had the instinct to create successful businesses for his people in partnership with ‘outside professionals’ for everyone’s benefit.

I recall an incident where Jerry and I were meeting with Government of Canada officials in Vancouver to discuss setting up the fishery. The government had just announced a new federal program to help First Nation communities build their own homes in remote communities. There was only one hitch – all the potential young people had to be union carpenters to participate.

Jerry recognized it was a scam, since virtually no young people in the Tahltan communities were union carpenters. It made a great announcement, but in fact was doomed to failure. Jerry arranged with a well known reporter to put a story in the Vancouver Sun newspaper about what a complete sham the whole program was – UNLESS the government changed the program to bring in Union Certified teacher/trainers to teach his people basic building skills and contracting skills, and in the process obtain union certification too.

Well the government officials agreed and that was the beginning of a highly successful building program in which the Tahltans have built almost all of their own homes since then.

Jerry is my hero! Yeh Jerry!

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