FISHER RIVER CREE NATION -- No one at the Fisher River powwow knew who the white guy in the Jets jacket was until he'd already walked on by.
"Are you a Jets coach?" asked one lanky teen in a ball cap.
"No, I just work for them," replied Mark Chipman.
After the Winnipeg Jets co-owner posed for pictures with a group of very high-spirited jingle dancers, they waited until he was out of earshot to ask who they'd just cuddled up to.
"Are you kidding?" said Micheline Berard, a M©tis artist and nurse from Portage la Prairie.
"Can you tell him I want tickets right behind the visitors box?" joked Shelly Cameron, who used to teach in the Interlake community.
As Chipman walked through the powwow grounds with the band's popular chief, David Crate, one teen leaned over to her boyfriend and said: "That's Mark Chapman, the billionaire."
Chipman was on the reserve, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg, Tuesday for a low-key tour in the back of the band's van, a chance to see where the Jets' half of a $250,000 contribution to a new on-reserve youth program is going.
The Province of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation donated the money to fund the first Right to Play program at Fisher River Cree Nation as well as at Pine Creek First Nation in western Manitoba.
Right to Play, a program best-known for its work in developing countries, is a few months into its work on Fisher River creating a program meant to teach young people life skills through recreation.
It's part of what business leaders such as Chipman and ex-premiers talked about earlier this summer as they gathered for a brainstorming session hosted by the Business Council of Manitoba. There was a consensus that the fate of Manitoba's booming aboriginal youth population and their full participation in the workforce was the province's biggest problem, one the business community needed to help solve.
If Chipman is one of Winnipeg's top business leaders, Crate is one of the province's best chiefs, the leader of a reserve that helped create a new provincial park, bought land for a cottage-lot development, has an outstanding school with near-perfect attendance and graduation rates and even a plan to install geothermal heating in dozens of homes this year.
There is little turnover in leadership at Fisher River, a governance structure that earned kudos from the right-leaning Frontier Centre and a 20-year plan for the band's economic and community development.
"We're not going to sit and wait for government," said Crate. "We're going to move ahead."
If Fisher River is doing so well, why does the band need cash from the province and the Jets?
Because the reserve is a test case, a safe place to start the program before moving on to other, more remote and troubled reserves, a place where there is still need but also a good chance the new program will work.
"When you have a high degree of success, let it flourish and move on from there," said Chipman.
But the Right to Play program also represents another foray by charities and the province into what ought to be a federal responsibility -- the provision of recreation, education and social services.
Manitoba Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief, who accompanied Chipman to Fisher River Tuesday, said the hope is the federal government will come on board with proven programs.
"If there's a need, you gotta respond to it," he said.