Dale Tsuruda had always been aware of his aboriginal heritage, through his grandmother, but it wasn’t until 2013, when his own status as a member of the Spuzzum First Nation was officially recognized, that he began thinking about what that status meant.
A successful businessman, Tsuruda is CEO and co-founder of Ironclad Logistics Group, a fuel delivery company that he and his partners have grown from a 12-person operation to one with 139 employees.
Ironclad recently launched an initiative, called Nationfuel, aimed at helping First Nations develop their own commercial fueling operations and gas stations on reserve.
“Nationfuel is an initiative that encourages aboriginal communities to get into the fuel business in one way or another,” Tsuruda said.
Tsuruda’s father was Japanese-Canadian and his mother non-status Spuzzum. Though his grandmother was a full-status member of the Spuzzum First Nation, she lost her status when she married an immigrant from Sweden.
Before it was amended, federal law discriminated against female status Indians. While a non-aboriginal woman who married a status First Nations man would be granted status under the Indian Act, a woman who married a non-aboriginal man would lose her status.
“When she lost her status, she wasn’t able to live on the reserve,” Tsuruda said of his grandmother. “So they lived adjacent, literally on the border of the reserve.”
The Indian Act was changed and his grandmother’s status was eventually recognized, which extended status to his mother and him.
“I just obtained my status in 2013, and the big question to me, internally, was ‘How can I add value?’” Tsuruda said. “I really was proud to receive my status, and the question to me was ‘How can I marry what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished to date, and bring value to First Nations communities?’”
He realized that there was an opportunity for him to use his expertise, connections and credibility within the fuel industry to help First Nations develop a variety of fuel businesses.
That could range from a retail gas station to a marina fuel supplier to an industrial card-lock for resource sectors such as forestry and mining.
As he points out, every community needs gasoline and diesel, but many First Nations don’t have their own fuel supplies. He’d like to change that and has been working with a number of First Nations communities to help them develop their own fuel businesses.
Many reserves are located in areas where industrial activities take place – forestry, mining, oil and gas extraction and pipeline construction, to name a few. All use machinery and generators that burn a lot of gasoline, diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
“If you’re a First Nations community and you’re geographically challenged or geographically isolated, then at a minimum I’d encourage them to at least have a fuel supply of their own,” Tsuruda said. “If they are geographically blessed and are actually located on a highway that can support a public gas station that would also serve the community and the public, then I’m encouraging that they do that.
“And if they geographically have hit the lottery and they have a lot of economic activity in their area, like a mine or an LNG plant or a highway construction or bridge construction – any activity that uses fuel – then I would like to give them the capacity to qualify to bid on those and be a part of the fuel supply for the projects.”
Lisa Ethans, a partner at Deloitte LLP, said the upfront costs of starting a fuel business on reserve are not huge, and there are a number of “significant” tax advantages.
“For First Nations considering the development of a gas station and/or their own fuel delivery business, alliances with fuel suppliers and service providers like the Ironclad Logistics Group, who are experienced in transporting fuel to retailers, can give [them] a running start,” Ethans said. “Other than the land, the capital expenditures to set up a gas station are not huge.
“Such fuelling stations can provide a source of revenue for First Nations, while not costing industry any more than they would otherwise incur. First Nations with this capacity can then make it a condition when creating agreements with business partners for the partners to fuel their trucks at a First Nation-owned gas station, in addition to the other terms negotiated, which typically include aboriginal employment.”
Prior to getting into the fuel delivery business, Tsuruda worked with his father in the forestry business, owning and operating sawmills.
In 2002, he and his brother, Ken Tsuruda, and co-founder Jeff Salmon bought out a mom-and-pop delivery business that had 12 drivers and a single customer – Petro-Canada.
Headquartered in West Vancouver on the Squamish Nation’s reserve, Ironclad has served a variety of gas companies, including Husky (TSX:HSE), Chevron (Nasdaq:CVX) and Shell (Nasdaq:RDS.B) in a geographic area that includes the Lower Mainland to Hope, and Vancouver Island.
Ironclad also delivers diesel to the Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) and Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR), and more recently the company expanded into the LNG delivery business for FortisBC. •