Indigenous-owned funding agency launches in Saskatoon
Nekaneet First Nation Chief Alvin Francis has a problem.
Sitting in a boardroom at the downtown Saskatoon offices of Meckelborg Financial Group, the chief says his community’s population is exploding. They had 472 people when he became chief six years ago; today, they have 578, a roughly 20 per cent increase.
Meanwhile, he says an $11 million land claim settlement is sitting in a trust earning around two or three per cent interest.
“How are we going to keep up?” he asks, as he discusses the need for economic development in his community.
Located in southwest Saskatchewan, Nekaneet owns land adjacent to Highway 1. Francis says they’re eying a service station or some other development to create much-needed revenue and jobs.
“We have to take these opportunities where we have money sitting, and re-invest into our communities,” Francis said.
Nekaneet has teamed up with Meckelborg to create Wiyotisiwin Investment Management Company, a newly launched wealth management firm that is entirely Indigenous-owned.
Wiyotisiwin partner Rob Woods says the firm will address what he calls “a disconnect” between First Nations and the large institutional investors who generally manage First Nations’ trusts.
“Access to capital is one of the biggest questions that exists in Canada today with respect to First Nations people,” he says.
Woods says he believes many First Nations are unhappy with their investment situations. Alongside difficulties leveraging land and other assets, he notes some industries that communities want to invest in can be deemed “high risk,” preventing them from getting good loan terms, even while they may have millions of dollars under management earning limited returns.
“It’s always been a question to me, why do Indigenous people have to borrow money to get into business?” Woods says, as he notes that while Nekaneet is the first, he expects more First Nations will join in the coming years. He says the process will take time, as it’s complicated for communities to switch wealth managers.
“I think many Nations will see what (Francis) sees as we move forward,” he said
Woods says an Indigenous-led wealth management firm has been “talked about in the Indigenous space for over 20 years, 30 years” beginning with the conversations that saw the formation of Indigenous financial institutions such as the First Nations Bank of Canada.
“There are no Indigenous professionals who work in the management role, in investment management. Most of them have my sort of background, commercial lenders or retail, that kind of space,” he says, adding the partnership with Meckelborg allows Wiyotisiwin to meet regulatory and legal requirements.