Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives

Ep15: An Indigenous Worldview on Wealth - No One Left Behind, with Thomas Benjoe

June 15, 2021 Rosie Yeung Season 2 Episode 15
Changing Lenses: Diversify Your Perspectives
Ep15: An Indigenous Worldview on Wealth - No One Left Behind, with Thomas Benjoe
Show Notes Transcript

Lots of companies have been asking, “What’s the business case for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI)?”

Thomas Benjoe turns that around and asks us to think about how JEDI benefits our community and economy, not just ourselves. Thomas is a member of Muscowpetung First Nation, Chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, and President and CEO of FHQ developments, a business partnership owned by the 11 member First Nation communities of File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC).

In this episode, Thomas shares successful business strategies that show how you can be equitable and profitable. He explains how counter-cultural concepts like paying higher wages gets reinvested in the economy which benefits our community and ourselves.

As you listen to Thomas, you’ll learn how an Indigenous worldview is not only relevant to business, it’s necessary.

For more JEDI resources or to contact me, head over to my website:  https://www.changinglenses.ca/ 

In this episode, we talk about:

  • Land acknowledgements: First Nations’ territories extend beyond political borders
  • The unique Indigenous business program at First Nations University Canada
  • Indigenous worldview on money and business 
  • Balancing business and profit with equity and inclusion
  • Their “secret sauce”: what differentiates their business model
  • A broader view of ROI (return on investment)
  • FHQ’s 3 divisions: investments & partnerships, economic development and Tokata HR Solutions – all staffed by First Nations
  • Increasing Indigenous representation: more than token diversity
  • How future business leaders can make a lasting impact
  • JEDI allyship includes economic allyship

Full transcript available here.

Guest Bio and References/Links


About Thomas Benjoe:
Thomas is the current President and CEO an a founding board member of FHQ Developments. He is a former Commercial Banker from RBC that served the Aboriginal Market throughout Saskatchewan, and played a critical role in in the creation of the FNUniv Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp.

A graduate of Business Administration from the First Nations University of Canada, Thomas is strongly committed to Aboriginal business development, wealth generation and First Nation equity ownership in key economic sectors.

Thomas serves on a number of committees and boards, including Chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce.

References and resources in this episode:

FHQ Website: https://www.fhqdev.com/
Instagram: @tombenjoe
Twitter: @tombenjoe
LinkedIn: Thomas Benjoe

First Nations University of Canada:  https://www.fnuniv.ca/

Globe and Mail Article: https://www.theglobean

If you enjoy the podcast and want deeper ways to Change your Lens in work and business, check out the free resources on my website, changinglenses.ca. I also offer workshops and keynote speeches on JEDI topics like Decolonizing Corporate Workplaces, recruiting more inclusively, anti-Asian racism, and many more. How can I  support your JEDI journey? Contact me at changinglenses.ca.

Please note: the transcripts attempt to stay true to the essence of each conversation, while maintaining clarity and readability. As a result, certain "filler" words, and nuances of tone, emotion and emphasis will be missing.

If you're able, you're strongly encouraged to listen to the audio podcast. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors, and may contain errors.

Ep15: An Indigenous Worldview on Wealth - "No One Left Behind", with Thomas Benjoe


Thomas: When we think about wealth from an Indigenous worldview and for ourselves as an organization, we look at more than just the bottom line. And when we look at generating wealth, it's not about generating wealth as an individual. It's about generating wealth as a community or as a nation. And steeped in our value system and the way that we make decisions and even the way that we've structured ourselves, we're taught not to leave anyone behind. When we do have prosperity that prosperity is shared equally amongst our communities and we're always taught to make sure that we help those that may not have had luck or benefit or gifts and skills that others have been blessed with. And so it's just recognizing and honoring those gifts that we're given and being able to share that prosperity with our community members. And so when we look at wealth generation. I mean, yes, we have to be profitable in our businesses obviously. So that part of the bottom line is important, but how we conduct business and how we ensure that there's a major economic impact in our communities, that's really important to us. 

Rosie: Well that’s not what I learned in school. It’s not what I learned from my family. And it’s definitely not how most businesses in capitalist societies like Canada and the U.S. are run.

I know this because companies are still saying that their primary purpose is to make money for shareholders; and they’re still asking for a business case for equity, diversity and inclusion.

So here’s my question. If this is our worldview – how’s that working out for us?

Sure, it works great for about 1% of the world. But the other 7.8 billion people? Not so much.

Well, today’s guest shows us a better way, one that generates profit while also prioritizing people and the planet. Thomas Benjoe is a member of Muscowpetung First Nation, located on Treaty 4 territory in what we now know as Saskatchewan, Canada. He knows how to build wealth and successful businesses, as a former commercial banker with RBC, and now President and CEO of FHQ Developments.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, I believe in diversity and making my company inclusive for all people. But at the end of the day, I run a business, and I have to manage my costs. So how do I balance the two?”

Fair question. And Thomas gives us ideas on this because he has to strike the same balance. FHQ’s businesses are not charities; they are financially self-sufficient while paying living wages, not just minimum wages. Thomas shows us a way to make this counter-intuitive model work; why managing to the lowest cost is bad for the economy; and how to do more than just “tick-the-box” when hiring Indigenous employees.

And these innovations are gaining recognition in the corporate business world too, as evidenced by the Globe and Mail naming him a 2021Report on Business Changemaker.

So as we ponder how to make our companies more equitable, diverse and inclusive in the “new normal” – not to mention, how we can each take part in reconciliation with our First Nations – I challenge you to incorporate one of Thomas’ business practices in your company today.

But first – a quick intro and land acknowledgment.


[intro music plays]

Rosie: Welcome to Changing Lenses. You’re invited to step into the lives of people on the front lines of discrimination, racism, and exclusion; to see the world through their eyes; and to hear their personal story of their fight for social justice.

I’m your host, Rosie Yeung, a Chinese-Canadian, immigrant, cis-straight female with invisible disabilities, and I’m passionate about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

Do you also want to see social change happen? Then please join me in Changing Lenses.

Each episode is hosted on colonized land that was taken from many Indigenous nations, including the Anishinaabe, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I seek Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Turtle Island, and I call upon us all to decolonize our thinking, not just our systems. Learn more on my website, changinglenses.ca.

Now please, enjoy the episode.

[intro music ends]

Rosie: So hello, welcome, Thomas. I'm so honored that you joined us on this Changing Lenses episode today. 

Thomas: Hey, Rosie. Yeah. Thanks for the invite.

Rosie: Oh yeah. I'm really excited and before we start recording, I already commented on your artwork, but I love the background that you're in and maybe just for the sake of our listeners, you can even just describe your setting. I'm sitting in my ugly kitchen, but you have a beautiful backdrop behind you. What is this painting with the horses and the warriors riding on these horses.

Thomas: Yeah. So it's where we're actually in our boardroom. We asked an artists that we know quite well and, and support. Um, so we asked her to depict, different themes for our boardroom. And one of the themes that came out was a meeting space. And so, uh, she actually depicted 11 warriors, all on horseback going to meet. And so that's representative of the 11 First Nations communities that are a part of our tribal council.

Rosie: Amazing. It's very beautiful. I love the colors. I wish our listeners could see this all. It's beautiful. And actually that's a great introduction to your nations. In the introduction to this episode, I talk a little bit about where I'm based land wise, and what the traditional territories were.  Will you please share with us where your land is based and treaties that are related to that and what the land means to you?

Thomas: Sure. Yeah. Well, I'm from Muscowpetung First Nation, um, currently where we're located is, uh, in Regina, but within the treaty four territory and our office space is actually located on Nekaneet First Nation land. It's an urban reserve here in Regina. And so we're speaking to you from this location.

Rosie: Wonderful. I think some of our listeners are maybe used to hearing land acknowledgements, like in a meeting or a conference. And I'm not sure what they think about it or what it means to them, but especially coming from a person from, you know, an Indigenous nation, what does it mean to you to speak about the land or to hear other people do a land acknowledgement?

Thomas: Well I think it's important that we are acknowledging and respecting the territory where we are present. And when I think about the territories that our tribes actually represent, it's very vast. We can look at one of the smallest communities we have from our tribal council which is, you know, maybe 250 members from that community.  But just that small community, uh, their actual traditional territory goes far beyond the treaty four territory. They go as far north as the Northwest Territories, as far East as into Ontario, as far South into the mid-US and right to the coast. Our territory is actually very vast, when we think about where are our true territory is, so it's, it's important to acknowledge but also there's a bit of historical context. It was negotiations with government that refined us to specific locations, but we don't have borders. We don't see borders. Our communities are much more vast.

Rosie: I really appreciate you talking about that. And I think it's good especially for non-Indigenous people to hear, uh, one of the things in the truth and reconciliation report that I've really taken to heart is we talk about treaties, but actually these negotiation of treaties, while seemingly honorable and in good faith were actually fraught with fraud and coercion.

So not everything's on the up and up, even if there is a treaty and not all land does have a treaty attached to it. And it's beyond the land. There's people, there's communities, as you said. So I'm really glad that you're here to talk and share that from your personal perspective, not just as some kind of an announcement, you know, before we get into, you know, the agenda of the discussion or whatever. So thank you for that.

Thomas: Yeah, no problem.

Rosie: And actually on the note of truth and respect and reconciliation. I want to say before we get going on a lot of questions that I have for you, I'm so interested in hearing your opinion, but I also really want to be respectful and acknowledge that I am still learning. I don't know a lot and I want this to be a safe space for you where you feel like you can share openly and be respected. And so I commit to you and our listeners that this is a safe space. I want you to be real. I will be honest and real. And I also invite you to keep me accountable. So if I mispronounce anything, or if I say something that is either disrespectful or just maybe not quite the right thing to say, please do let me know so that I can learn. And also so our listeners can learn together with us.

Thomas: Okay. No, I appreciate that. This is going to be great.

Rosie: Awesome. All right, so let's dive into this. So I'm very eager based on your incredible work so far, and I think you're your rising success. You've been acknowledged by the Globe and Mail as a change maker. You're now the president of your own company, but obviously you didn't start out here. It's been a bit of a journey. So could you please share with us a bit about what your journey has been, maybe starting with even like why you got interested in a career in business?

Thomas: Yeah. So my interest in business started at a very young age. I actually picked up, uh, a magazine in high school and seen a very successful Indigenous CEO that was the head of a very large development corporation. And it really got me thinking about, well, you know, what can I do?

I have an interest in business and I actually think it was conversations with you know, elders in my family and elders in the community just talking about where we needed help the most and it was some of that guidance and feedback that drew me in the direction of business.

 I've always been an entrepreneur and always try to work no matter what it was. And actually, um, was just reminiscing about all the jobs that I've worked. I think it was well over 20 different jobs I've worked. And just having that experience in working and then making the decision to go to First Nations University and pursuing a business degree from there and, and specifically chose that university because of the Indigenous business program which, I mean, you can't get that type of education anywhere else. So very, very unique with leading edge professors that were leading in Indigenous entrepreneurship and 

Rosie: Which university was that? That Indigenous university.

Thomas: First Nations University of Canada. So it's actually right here in Regina which is super unique. It's the only fully first nations post-secondary institution in Canada that is at a university level, I should say.

Rosie: Yeah, that's awesome. I didn't know that that existed. That there was a First Nations university. Are non-Indigenous people allowed to attend the university or is it specifically just for First Nations?

Thomas: Absolutely.  It's open to anyone who wants to attend. As part of our leadership in Saskatchewan, it was really important for them to have their own institution and to begin teaching their own youth. And so there was a major commitment from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations or FSIN, which is what it's called now, but you know they made that commitment back then to uh, make sure that they had an institution for post-secondary because just prior to that, Canadian policy actually made it as though Indigenous or First Nations weren't allowed to go to post-secondary or they would be considered disenfranchised. Which meant you gave up your status and all the rates and benefits that would come with that.

And so this was part of that reconciliation, I guess, at that time was to create our own institution. And University of Regina helped with that process. And here we are with our own institution and  with actually record growth for student enrollment. So, um, really great place to just learn and bring some really unique experiences together from students.

Rosie: Wow. Okay. That's super interesting. Sorry, I interrupted your story. So yeah. So you, you went to this amazing university and then.

Thomas: Yeah. So I worked with our professors and did joint consulting projects with them and eventually went out on my own and did my own consulting which helped to build my experience. And eventually I had the opportunity to attend a number of conferences and was selected through a program that was called inclusion work. So they pick the top 100 Indigenous students across Canada. They invite you out to this conference and then you go on a five day interview with multiple companies across Canada.  Through all of those things I was able to get quite a number of job opportunities right across Canada just because of my unique background and education.

So I had the opportunity to choose and I actually chose to work with RBC. And I became a commercial banker and my big focus or my passion has always been to help our communities, help our nations, succeed in business. And so I felt that becoming a commercial banker and being able to learn more about finance and structure and due diligence.

I was hungry for learning inside of the organization and in that allowed me to build new skills, which eventually led me to the opportunity of where I am today. So I spent six years within RBC. Was in progress to work towards a leadership position within the bank but, in those six years, I was asked to sit on the Board for FHQ developments. You know, brand new company. I was brought on as a Youth Director, uh, a Board member. And it was in that role that I was able to learn from the other Board members about governance and best business practice. And eventually the opportunity came up that the Board wanted me to take on a leadership role. And at the age of 30, I took on the, uh, CEO role for FHQ developments. And, you know, I've been here now four and a half years building the business and expanding our strategy.

Rosie: That's great. That's so inspiring to hear. I mean obviously a lot of hard work, but that it panned out for you so successfully. I'm really happy for that. I'm interested in what made you choose  that RBC role and like what a great testimony too, for, uh, for Royal Bank, right. Were there other jobs similar and you chose the organization or there wasn't any other roles like why that particular position?

Thomas: I guess the opportunities I had were a lot of different business and governance roles and the big differentiator with RBC was actually meeting and speaking with a commercial banker that was specifically involved with Indigenous banking.

And it was his testimony about why he chose to work for RBC was what compelled me to take on the opportunity but, also besides that some of the people that I take as mentors they actually had careers in RBC as well when they first started out and so, you know, it was some of that influence as well. And then the other really important thing that RBC was able to offer me compared to the other banks was the ability to stay here at home. They knew how important that was for me to be situated here in Regina.  The other offers were all in Toronto where, you know, the head of Indigenous banking was happening for their organizations and their training programs.

Being home is really important for me. Just because of my connection to my family and I'm considered a leader in my family. So it's very difficult to lead if I have to be far away. So very important to be here. And besides that, my, my passion is to help our communities here locally. So you know, really important for me to make that consideration and RBC was flexible enough to do that. And I was able to build a great career and actually transitioned into Indigenous banking.

Rosie: So, first of all, RBC, you're welcome. I promise you RBC did not pay me for any of this stuff, but yeah, that's, it's actually says a lot about their culture and how they're supportive of employees.  Interesting, what you said about Indigenous banking, not being, not a ton of opportunities because I just saw an article the other day about how the Indigenous economies, $30 billion. I've been thinking along the lines of how capitalism and business in corporate Canada, corporate North America, as we know it today is really steeped in a lot of colonial values, right. And it is also based on making money. How can we make more money? How can we make even more money, the most money? From what I've been learning about Indigenous culture and Indigenous people, I don't think that is quite the same values or the same thinking. Are you able to share with us what from your nations or if there's generally also an Indigenous worldview on money, on business, on trade? What is that? And how is that different from corporate business as we might know it today.

Thomas: When we think about wealth from an Indigenous worldview and for ourselves as an organization,  we look at more than just the bottom line. And when we look at generating wealth, it's not about generating wealth as an individual. It's about generating wealth as a community or as a nation. And steeped in our value system and the way that we make decisions and even the way that we've structured ourselves, we're taught not to leave anyone behind. When we do have prosperity that prosperity is shared equally amongst our communities and we're always taught to make sure that we help those that may not have had luck or benefit or gifts and skills that others have been blessed with. And so it's just recognizing and honoring those gifts that we're given and being able to share that prosperity with our community members. And so when we look at wealth generation. I mean, yes, we have to be profitable in our businesses obviously.

 So that part of the bottom line is important, but how we conduct business and how we ensure that there's a major economic impact in our communities, that's really important to us. So how are we making sure that we're building indigenous capacity and not just from a frontline labor position, it's how do we make sure there's indigenous capacity at all levels of the company? How do we make sure that there's training opportunities so that those that may have missing skillsets are able to train and develop further in their capacity. How do we ensure from a governance perspective that we have seats on our Boards that we're filling those with indigenous individuals as well to build their knowledge of governance.

How do we look at reinvestment? How do we make sure that we're reinvesting where we're doing it in a sustainable nature, that will allow us to continue to build success for future generations. We have a very strict process in how we choose to reinvest dollars into the community. And we specifically chose our youth because that's our future workforce. 

And so we focus on, STEM programming, entrepreneurship, arts, culture, language, all of those types of things that are building good skill sets in our youth but also creating an opportunity to build a recognition of our organization and instill pride in who we are as an organization that they can think of themselves as having a future here with us. 

So, you know, all of those aspects we take into consideration and reinvest back into not only our communities, but the community that we do business in is, is really important because when we're able to earn a contract or take on a new business, it's what type of an effect do we want to have as compared to a very capitalistic approach to how much money am I going to make? How much are my shareholders going to earn? And that's great for those models and for capitalism, but you often leave our communities behind which, I mean, you see that in modern day economics where there is great disparity between the ultra rich and the poorest people in our community get left behind.

And We take into consideration even from a wage perspective and livelihood because that's building in generating wealth in the community with those individuals  that work for us. And yes, we're not cheapest when it comes to contracting but, we're also choosing to pay a living wage to our frontline staff, which is really, really important.

And we do get comments about that and, you know, we do janitorial work for instance and often times companies are looking for what's the lowest price. I could pay somebody to do this work and you know, we take a step back and say, well, wait a minute, let's not forget that these people are a part of our community. They have families and by reinvesting in them and giving them a living wage they're going to have a greater effect in the community overall because they're going to take that wealth that they're building and they're going to invest it in things that they need to grow as a family and be good contributing members of society. So those things are really important. That's how you create more impactful wealth in our communities and that's how we focused our business. It's helped to build loyalty as well amongst our staff to know that we are taking care of them they don't have to struggle if they ever have a health issue.

Rosie: I love that. I have heard of a couple of other companies, something similar, like they're trying to pay based on what the take home pay is for their employees. So yeah, so I'm, trying to figure it out; maybe help my listeners too figure out because I get asked a lot. Well, what's the business case for inclusion, equity, diversity. And if I'm being very blunt with people, I would say there isn't one, if all you care about is the bottom line. Frankly, I don't see a business case. If you're talking about profit, I don't see a business case to eliminate slavery. Like, why wouldn't you want free labor, right? I don't see a business case to stop child labor and unsafe working conditions. Because of course, if you get the cheapest building you can, get the workers who can't fight back and you pay them dirt, right? Or don't pay them at all in the case of slavery.

I'm not saying at all corporate Canada's is thinking about it that way, but I could see some honest questions of how do you balance that really tough balance, right? Like you said, you're making money. How do you treat people equitably and inclusively and do things like pay a living wage? How are you striking that balance as an investor and a business person?

Thomas: What has been really key to our strategy for our business is making sure that I absolutely understand where these policies are coming from and why an organization even chooses to go down this path of having some sort of Indigenous engagement or Indigenous procurement policy so that it's not just something that is superficial, you know, so I'm having conversations that are beyond just the contracts. It's more about what is the strategy for the organization? Why are you choosing to do this? And I think it's in those discussions that we're able to build a better understanding and try to get those organizations to think that, you know, we're just purely looking at the cheapest cost or, you know, lowest cost, uh, product or service.

I try to teach them about what does it mean for you as an organization to create economic development. And economic development means that we're building our economy to be strengthened. And so what considerations are you making as an organization that would be considered an investment in the community versus trying to get something as cheap as possible.

And I think it's in those conversations that we've been able to take a different approach and have a different look at how we are doing business. And so it allows us to negotiate differently with our clients about some of those aspects. And so they're a bit more open to having a conversation around negotiations on price or on contract. And having that higher level understanding of what we're trying to accomplish at the end of the day becomes the really critical point of the conversation to be able to build a better understanding.

And, you know,  I think about some of the work that we're doing right now in terms of some of the government procurement. And they're doing the job that they're being told to do, but they're also following a philosophy of making sure that they keep costs low, right? And I'm sure we all know about performance measurements and I'm sure they're measured on finding savings for the organization but, when it comes to making a decision about diversity and inclusion, you have to go at it from the perspective of what does economic development look like? What does impact look like for the economy that we're doing business in? And that's where you need to make some consideration that you will have to spend a little bit more, but you also have to think about what is that greater impact that I'm actually creating by doing that? Am I creating benefit locally in the economy if I'm choosing to buy something that is super low cost from another country and we're shipping it here versus paying a little bit more and seeing that happen here within our own economy, which we know those workers are gonna live, work and play within the local economy. And so they're going to continue to spend the dollars that they're earning from that business in our economy.

So that's what they really have to take into consideration when making those decisions and  that's what gives us opportunity to step in. And when organizations say they are interested in Indigenous engagement, but they don't really have the necessary tools in place or necessary policies in place that's where we know as an organization that okay we're going to have to roll up our sleeves here and work with them  and really help to build their understanding of why this is so important. And so there is a lot of advocacy work that is being done in my role and even amongst my staff to have those conversations with our, our customers. 

Rosie: I loved what you said earlier about looking at impact more broadly. So not just what percentage ROI, return on investment, that's financial. And I think companies are finally starting to get there.  Maybe we should look at like a social ROI, not just a financial ROI, but you guys have actually done it. Is there an example you could share with us where that illustrates exactly what you said. That the impact is good and it is much broader than just whatever the financial ROI is, but your financial ROI was also good.

Thomas: Yeah, so one of the things that we've actually built as an organization, it's going to become a bit of our secret sauce to how we demonstrate impact, but we've actually created an economic impact calculator that is based on our business model. And so when a customer chooses to give us a contract, we can actually specifically say what the economic impact has been on that specific contract with us. What that demonstrates to them is what the true economic impact of our business has been.

And besides our non-Indigenous competitors that we may compete against. We now have this tool that differentiates our business model to show that we do have a greater economic impact than our competition. And if you really do care about building up our local economy well then, make that additional investment in working with FHQ developments, because this is what we're all about. And this is the impact we're having in the community. And we now have the tool to be able to demonstrate that impact.

Rosie: What are some results that you've seen that return on investment?

Thomas: Some of the multipliers could be anywhere in a range from a 1.5 multiplier up to a five times multiplier. It all depends on the contract. And so, you know, you earn a hundred thousand dollar contract and, you know, typically in the construction area, it's usually in that two to three times multiplier.

So I mean, a lot of cases, we're seeing a 2.4 multiplier. So, you know, earning a hundred thousand dollar contract could attribute to $240,000 in actual economic impact because of our business model. 

Rosie: I think data analysts need to be flocking to you and your team to understand what you guys have built in this model and how to do this more broadly. I've been pushing for a long time that your business case, so to speak on being more equitable, diverse, inclusive needs to include these intangible hard to measure data pieces, right?

What are some of the components like what are you factoring into, this economic calculation that you guys are doing?

Thomas: Well we've actually used the expertise of an economist and several consultants to help build this tool for us. So we're looking at it from a variety of different industries because obviously our portfolio is diverse so we have to take into consideration what's a professional service versus contract versus tech versus renewable energy. Everything has a different factor that you have to consider in each of those industries. The only thing that has been difficult for us, and we're not quite there yet is some of the additional social impacts which are very, very tough to put a finger on. So I mean, our calculator gets us to a point of economic impact. It's just, we haven't been able to get into the full social impact and that's because there's just too many variables that you would have to consider and so, in terms of the data,  we know that we're creating a great impact through the economic impact. But we're missing part of the story of the true impact in terms of that additional social impact that we are having based on our business model as well.

Rosie: That makes sense. So really the multipliers that you named before are even higher if you were to consider the social impacts that are not in it yet.

Thomas: Yeah, absolutely.  Yeah, the factors would be quite considerable if we were to look at identifying what those additional factors would be.

Rosie: Gotcha. Okay. And I should have asked this from the beginning because for people who aren't super familiar with, FHQ. What is it that FHQ offers in terms of service that companies can buy?

Thomas: Well, we have quite a number of companies. So we're in the construction industry, sort of our bread and butter as an organization. We're also in the hospitality industry. We own a hotel that has been very successful. And even through a pandemic we had a little bit of a hiccup, but we're back to normal operations there. And we're now looking to start getting engaged in the tech industry. We'll look to make future investments in the tech industry as well as looking at renewables. So we do have a considerable amount of renewable energy projects that are currently sitting on the fence, you know, if we're successful on these bids those will bring significant long-term benefits to our communities because those large renewable energy projects are twenty-five year arrangements and to have twenty-five years of cashflow from those major capital projects will see tremendous benefit in our community for the longterm.

Rosie: That's amazing.  It's a diverse portfolio right, of businesses and services that are provided. So just in this line of business alone, it sounds like if someone needed to contract some construction help, then they can go on FHQ's website and look to see what construction services are available for contract. And the services are staffed and provided by First Nations. Did I get that right?

Thomas: Yeah. Yeah. What's really unique to our model, I mean, even inside of FHQ developments and we have three different divisions, right? It's our investments and partnerships, which takes care of all of our business entities, we also have an economic development function which tries to help build the Indigenous business ecosystem around us.

And then we have our third division, which is our HR. So Tokata HR Solutions focuses on getting our people employed and not just our people from within our tribal council, we have a lot of Indigenous individuals that work for us throughout the organization. So we're trying to make sure that we have a good handle on the talent that we have and the development of that talent for future growth.

Rosie: I was just asked the other day by a number of HR professionals. Someone was wanting, I guess, to hire more Indigenous people or find more people of color and was asking about what job boards are out there, where should we post our job?  And I was kind of torn because on the one hand, like, okay, I appreciate the intention of what you're trying to do.  And maybe there are some specialized places to go to look, but first of all, just even if you found them, like, this is about finding people, that doesn't mean that they're going to want to work for you or that you're attracting them to your organization, but also why would you think that  the same people aren't also looking on LinkedIn, aren't also on Indeed.

Like aren't on the typical job boards where there's mass jobs out there. Are we not further marginalizing people by saying, Oh, we're going to need to go to an Indigenous job board to find Indigenous people because that's where they're looking for jobs; we're not going to go to LinkedIn. So I wondered if you had any opinion or thoughts on that. Like for, for companies who genuinely want to hire more Indigenous people. What advice do you have and how to go about doing that in an equitable way?

Thomas: Well to go back into the history of where Tokata started from. We were a labor services company. So basically we found Indigenous people. We put them to work with companies and we checked the box. We said, okay, we got that person a job this year. Great. Over time I started to feel and our team started to feel like that's not enough just getting people employed is not enough. And then one of the things that we'd seen or noticed in the process was that when we were choosing to hire those Indigenous individuals, a lot of the times the opportunities were very, very short term.

And so they were falling victim to a policy issue and the policy issue being, a lot of the procurement departments there, their policy was, how many Indigenous people did you employ on this particular project or this contract? You know, nothing about quality, nothing about the amount of hours, nothing about the salary and are we building a career. It was just purely, did we get an Indigenous person hired? And it didn't matter if it was one day, one week, three months, a year. It didn't matter, check the box. That didn't sit right with us as a team and we felt like we needed to do more for our people. And so we came up with a completely different strategy on how we were going to do that.

And so Tokata's focus then became how do we become that conduit to ensure that if we are placing an Indigenous person with a company, what is the end game here? Are we seeking out an opportunity for full-time employment, which is the absolute goal of our organization is to try to actually build careers for our people versus just the short term stints. There's a lot of advocacy that our team does for those Indigenous individuals to work with our clients. And at the same front, for the employers, we're advocating for them as well with the individual in Indigenous employee that, that we're putting to work with them because sometimes they're not able to have comfortable conversations about the workplace or about how they were treated or there may be unconscious bias that we're dealing with in their processes so we're that conduit in that relationship. And it's built on the premise that We have strong Indigenous HR professionals within our organization that have seen and experienced this time and time again and so they're helping us break down some of those barriers that organizations may not have a strong sense that exists. They're helping to break those down and we're obviously seeing a lot more success. We've had a much stronger retention rate compared to just sending a stack of resumes of Indigenous talent to an organization and hoping that they're going to be a good connection. And it's in some of the relationship building ahead of that with the individual and with the company that pays in the longterm for both organizations.

Rosie: Perfect. Thomas. I really want to thank you for the incredible wisdom, the stories, the little learning that you shared with us. Our time is almost up and there's millions more things we could ask you, but we just, we need to let you go back to work, so you can keep building your community. I wonder if just to close us off, if you could share with us some thoughts, I mean, you're a strong Indigenous leader not just in your community, but across Canada. And I think you're finally getting recognized for that. And you have such insightful and unique perspectives on business, on economy, on just being a good person. What advice could you share? If you're mentoring the future Indigenous and non-Indigenous business leaders of tomorrow what advice might you want to share with them?

Thomas:  I think it's important to have passion, uh, having more passion about, you know, not just what is it that I want?  Something interesting that I've seen was around Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right. You know, in that hierarchy, a lot of it talks about us as individuals. It's all about me. And actually an Indigenous person's hierarchy of need is about community. It's about how do I fit into the community? How do I contribute to the community? How do I find my sense of belonging? And instead of just looking at personally, why me, me, me, you know, what can I do to better the community?

And I think having that type of an understanding will only open up your mindset into thinking more broadly about your actions and about the things that you value. There's so much reward that I find in the things that I do in, in my job, because I see the effects and I see the benefits and we try to share as many great stories all the time on our social media about individuals that have become employed within our organization and just hearing some of their story. 

 Those are the things that really tell us that we're on the right track but, also it's that sense of satisfying a gap in the community versus, Oh, I just donated $500 away to a charity this week.

Well, you know, it's more important to help somebody build some livelihood versus just cutting a $500 check. We really have to start thinking that way, you know, if we're going to take, what are we going to give back and how is it going to impact the community?  I would say in terms of those individuals that really want to help to be an advocate or an ally in helping to see this change in their organization just continue to follow what we're doing.

We have our social media channels and I plan to do this for a very long time. And so the more allies I have helping us achieve the same goal of increasing the effectiveness in our community and increasing the economic impact, we're going to get to a place so much quicker.

I can't stress it enough being able to build strong allies and in these organizations that a lot of your listeners work for. Really think about how can you include this type of thought into your organization because it's going to create future opportunity for maybe an Indigenous business to work with that organization or it's going to create an opportunity for another diverse business owner to participate within that organization. And we will start to see healthier communities I believe when we start to think this way.

Rosie: Incredible. Count me in as one of your allies. I stand with you Thomas and I want to support FHQ and your communities and your nations as well. So I'm in. Hope many other people that are listening right now are also in and I'm glad you brought up the social media too. I imagine, some people might want to get in touch with you.  What's the easiest way for people to do that.

Thomas:  I use all the social media. So LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook. A lot of the business community will use LinkedIn. I get quite the flood of emails every day. All sorts of questions and connections and interest in what it is that that we're doing. And so I try to manage communication through there as well, but just following FHQ developments and what we're doing as an organization.   Follow our story and our journey as we go along and celebrate with us when we are seeing those great successes and in the community as well.

Rosie: We will definitely make sure to do that. And I'll include all of your links and handles and stuff in the show notes.  This was really fun and educational and it's just inspiring to hear what you've been doing. And to everyone who's listening. Thank you for chiming in. I hope that you did enjoy hearing Thomas and do feel free to follow up if you have any questions. If you're looking for some additional resources as well, and just want more information on equity, diversity, and inclusion, please feel free to check out my website. That's changinglenses.ca and you can also find links to all of the podcast platforms so you can subscribe to on whichever is your favorite. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you, Thomas. And until next time, I'm Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.

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Rosie: Thanks for joining us! I hope we helped to change your lens, and expand your worldview. And if you want to talk about today’s episode with a safe community, or ask me questions directly, please join our Changing Lenses Facebook Group – the link is in the shownotes. This episode was produced and hosted by me, with associate production by William Loo, and post-production by Cue9. Until next time, I’m Rosie Yeung, your guide to Changing Lenses.

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