Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Petro-Canada store (gas bar and convenience) has received a top award and its former manager, high praise. Store Manager Helena Mazawasicuna and Assistant Manager Melissa Tacan travelled to the celebratory gala in Vancouver where the business was awarded Store of the Year and Mazawasicuna - Associate of the Year.
“It was the most magical moment, because we worked really hard.
The significance of the award still grips her. “We’re the first, First Nations to be nominated twice, as a young business.” She said initially they didn’t publicize the nomination, “We were afraid it wouldn’t happen.” But it did, leading to the trip to Vancouver where she says, “Suncor Energy treated us like gold.”
Mazawasicuna’s Associate of the Year award was held as a surprise. After a photo with all the nominees for the district, the names were displayed. Hers was the only female nomination on the western side of the country, among 23 other stores, some with A&Ws associated.
Then the announcement came: “I heard Sioux Valley … I dropped my fork. I went into shock mode.” Mazawasicuna said she had no speech prepared and was thankful she didn’t need one. But her story was told. “They wrote a beautiful story about me, my work, the Unity Rides. Even Travis was in that story.” (Helena and husband Travis Mazawasicuna have organized a number of rides for ceremonial and healing purposes within the Dakota communities.)
Mazawasicuna began as assistant manager on Aug. 6, 2016 and worked to prepare the Petro-Can store at the corner of Hwy 21 and the Trans Canada Hwy for its opening day. Within six months, by Jan. 31, 2017, the business launched.
In 2019, the manager became ill and Mazawasicuna stepped up from assistant to shoulder the full managerial role. From the start, the team ran a clean, efficient and friendly service business. And since 2019 they accomplished significant things.
“We did a lot. We put the generator in, which can run this station when there’s no power.”
A crippling snowstorm hit southwest Manitoba in March of 2018. “The highway was shut down. We had power for a bit, we tried to feed the public and keep them safe, but then we lost power. So that moment I said, “We need to put a generator up here because we’re in the middle of nowhere,” a lone stop on the Trans-Canada between Virden and Brandon.
With her resolve, there’s now a generator capable of running the fuel pumps, interior heating, lights and the cooler.
“It took two years to build it. Its custom made for Petro… it’s a big truck (diesel) engine.” Covid held up getting some parts.
Most recently, in mid-July, a food service is also available at SVDN Petro-Canada. “It took us a year to get that in. Now there’s wedges, there’s wings, there’s pizza, there’s soft-serve ice cream – that’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had,” Helena smiles broadly.
She’s still a huge fan of the enterprise, although she’s no longer working there. Establishing the gas station meant personal sacrifices. Upon returning from the awards ceremony, Mazawasicuna felt it was time to step away and let someone else carry on.
But the joy of the awards lingers. “I felt the highest I could ever feel in my life. It’s not a moment I will ever forget. But I couldn’t be there without the guys behind me, without Melissa behind me,” she says of the SVDN Petro-Can staff and their partners in Petro-Canada.