Improving economic outcomes in Saskatchewan, today and in the future, is closely linked to creating opportunities and support for diverse community members, including Indigenous people, says Thomas Benjoe, a member of the Muscowpetung First Nation and president and CEO of FHQ Developments, an organization supporting First Nations partners with resources and tools to create, deliver and connect on business opportunities in Saskatchewan and beyond.
FHQ Developments, the economic development division of the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, is owned by the 11 First Nations in the Treaty 4 Territory, representing over 16,000 First Nations citizens on and off reserve. “We’re considered thought-leaders in our community,” says Mr. Benjoe. “Rather than having non-Indigenous organizations tell us what they think the solution should be, we ensure solutions are coming from an Indigenous organization. Part of what we do is deepen business relationships and help realize business opportunities.”
The belief that economic empowerment is an important component of reconciliation has inspired Mr. Benjoe to take an active role in a number of organizations shaping the future of Saskatchewan and Regina. Highlights of this engagement include acting as past chair for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce – the second Indigenous person in Canada in such a position at the time – and joining the board of Economic Development Regina (EDR).
“We’ve been coming up with unique ways of building relationships – and we’re seeing results,” he says. “EDR’s business plan, for example, is unique as the commitment to economic reconciliation isn’t just one line item – it is implemented throughout the entire strategy.”
Another example is the City of Regina’s new procurement policy, in which 20 per cent of the total value of city contracts will go to Indigenous businesses. “That’s a historic commitment,” says Mr. Benjoe. “The city spends approximately $200-million annually on goods, equipment, services and construction – and this policy will allow Indigenous businesses to gain more significance within local supply chains.”
Including Indigenous voices in economic development can also enhance access to local talent going forward – as 36 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population under the age of 19 is Indigenous, explains Mr. Benjoe. “We need to ensure time and effort are spent on developing and implementing in-depth Indigenous engagement strategies to harness this talent.”
Chris Lane, EDR’s president and CEO, also sees engaging with Indigenous partners as a “true competitive advantage.
“It’s a real opportunity for companies and investors who are looking not only for talent but also for business partnerships for anything from energy and tech to agriculture,” says Mr. Lane. “Regina’s competitive advantage is the ability of our Indigenous communities to be economic leaders.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Grow Your World Regina. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.