A shining light bulb in the center while people having a meeting in the background A shining light bulb in the center while people having a meeting in the background
Thomas Benjoe siting in center
Thomas Benjoe
President and CEO - FHQ Developments & Chair - Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce

Indigenous Business Engagement in Saskatchewan

Published on

Takeaways

  1. As the Indigenous community grows in Saskatchewan, it will be necessary to offer more support to Indigenous businesses for the benefit of the province’s economy.
  2. Introducing Indigenous values and perspectives to business will see the introduction of better economic, social, and governance practices to business.
  3. Giving Indigenous youth the tools to forge their career paths is important for the growth of the economy and the betterment of Indigenous communities all over Canada.

Action

Supporting the development and growth of Indigenous communities in Canada is pivotal for Canada’s success in the future economy. Indigenous perspectives will strengthen business commitments to economic, social, and governance goals, and engaging more Indigenous youth and talent will enrich the community


How important is Indigenous business development as a growth sector in the Saskatchewan and Canadian economy? 

Indigenous business is one of the fastest growing sectors in the Canadian economy. The reason for that is that Indigenous business has been left out of the movement of our economy and so we are playing catch up. As Indigenous businesses catch up with the rest of the Canadian economy, there are great opportunities to invest and help us grow at an even greater exponential rate because we know the effects of that success and what the economics would bring back for our communities.

“In 10 to 20 years, 40% of the population in Saskatchewan will be Indigenous.”

Of the 19-and-under age group in Saskatchewan, 36.2% are Indigenous. In 10 to 20 years, 40% of the population in Saskatchewan will be Indigenous. It is very important for us to start setting a foundation for future success and for our business community to be sure they are preparing themselves for a future growing workforce that will become a key part of their business.


How is the development of Indigenous business important to reconciliation?

We are just scratching the surface. A lot of the policies that we have today or that we have had in the past are just starting out. There is a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be done to improve procurement policies to increase community benefit. 

“With the introduction of more Indigenous value systems into the business process, we are going to see a huge shift in how we assess success in business.”

The business community has a lot to learn from Indigenous communities in the sense that our view of wealth is very different. Our viewpoint of developing Indigenous wealth includes the community versus the individual. That means if we are going to build success, we are going to build success in the community around us. This is an aspect that we sometimes forget about when we are building businesses. We are looking for the lowest costs and to establish a healthy bottom line, but inside some of that decision-making, we can forget about people. We forget about where we are, the community around us, and the environment. With the introduction of more Indigenous value systems into the business process, we are going to see a huge shift in how we assess success in business. We need to continue to bring Indigenous voices and thought leadership to the table, and we will do some really great things.

Looking at the changes being made and the new focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) requirements, had these organizations worked with Indigenous communities from the start and designed their businesses around some Indigenous values, we would have made decisions differently. We would have taken deeper consideration of ESGs right from the start rather than ESG just being a buzzword. There would have been new ways of investing and is something that should be best practice. We could have learned that from Indigenous communities right from the start. 

“Before the creation of Western civilizations within our territories, Indigenous communities were in balance and had vast economies.”

Before the creation of Western civilizations within our territories, Indigenous communities were in balance and had vast economies.  We had great trade and always had respect for our environment and relationships with people from all walks of life. In terms of how we make decisions about investments today with ESG, Indigenous thought is on a whole other level that ESG will eventually get to.


What do Saskatchewan and Canada need to do to better engage Indigenous youth in the economy?

We need to put the youth first in our decision-making and always think about what the future generation will look like. We need to invest in our youth. From a policy perspective, it is typically our education systems that are the first to see budget cuts. It was only until this past year, through a pandemic, that we have actually seen some fairly significant advances in how we teach because we were forced to. Now, we are at a point where we need to decide on how we can do better and take what we learned this past year to advance the learning of our youth. More of our youth have access to technology and there is a much bigger demand for access to the internet. We have to really make those investments. We need to think about our traditional education models and make a decision on how to prepare our youth for the future.

“Businesses have to build brand awareness so that youth have an actual interest in your industry.”

Those are some of the things that we focus on as an organization. We absolutely think about our youth and invest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) events and entrepreneurship. We are focusing on a lot of things that help develop our youth because we want to ensure that they are thinking about their future careers. We want to be intentional in how we select our partners and how we talk about capacity building with them so that we have a plan in place. The business community today is talking about developing their future workforce by looking at post-secondary institutions. What we are saying is you have to go a little further back. Businesses have to build brand awareness so that youth have an actual interest in your industry. If you are not capturing them young, you are going to have a much smaller net to cast for your future workforce. If you start early, you will be able to see greater success in the future.

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What are your priorities going forward as the new Chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce?

A lot of our priorities are attested to our board. We have spent a great deal of time developing a new strategic plan. I have to give kudos to our previous two Chairs who started the process and now it is about implementing the plan with me coming into the role. 

Some of the other things that will be focused on include the procurement aspect within Saskatchewan. We want to make sure we better understand community benefit and expand what that means because we have Crown corporations and government ministries. Through the pandemic, we have also made commitments to additional spending. We want to make sure we create more benefits for our business community so they can bounce back from the pandemic. 

It is not just about ensuring that there is Saskatchewan-based labour but ensuring that there is Indigenous content to it where women are included. We also need to look at our minority businesses, which have been disproportionately affected. We need to understand the reinvestment that could happen from those Saskatchewan businesses back into the community. There are so many different things that we can measure in terms of creating greater economic impact overall through procurement processes.

“I want to give a voice to the Indigenous business community for its growth in the province.”

I have been clear from the start since joining the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce about increasing Indigenous engagement. I want to give a voice to the Indigenous business community for its growth in the province. We need to have conversations about our barriers and work through them. I am excited to take on these challenges and come up with better solutions. 

There is also our continued thought leadership on a low carbon economy. We are continuing to focus on the energy sector and moving towards making investments around a low carbon economy. This will come in the future and we have to make sure we are in a good position to offer resources and support back to our business community on how to make that transition effectively.


What is your message to non-Indigenous Canadians about the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and views in our economy?

We have spent a great many years using policy to exclude Indigenous people from being a part of our economy to now shifting that dynamic and wanting to be very intentional and specific in designing policies that include Indigenous people and their prosperity. When we think about where we are going as a province and country, the inclusion of Indigenous people will help benefit our economies and bring new voices to the table on how to make decisions for a greater future.

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Thomas Benjoe siting in center
Thomas Benjoe
President and CEO - FHQ Developments & Chair - Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce

Bio: Thomas Benjoe is the President and CEO of FHQ Developments as well as Chair for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce. He is a founding Board of Director’s member for FHQ Developments and served six years on the Board. He also currently serves on a number of committees and boards including the First Nations Power Authority, University of Regina, the Council for Entrepreneurship Growth at Economic Development Regina, and more. 

Organization Profile: FHQ Developments is the Economic Development Corporation for the File Hill’s Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) that manages partnerships and new business ventures on behalf of its limited partners, the 11 First Nations of FHQTC. 

The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce represents the Saskatchewan business community, advocating on behalf of all sizes of businesses, local chambers of commerce, and professional associations to develop policies, run events, and implement programs and benefits.