Jonathan Davey made a drastic career move three years ago when he joined Scotiabank after 10 years practising Aboriginal law with Canada’s Department of Justice. But he sees a common thread in those two quite different roles.

As a lawyer with the federal government, Davey worked closely with residential school survivors on their settlements, and later advised Indigenous Services Canada on land management issues on reserve.

“The move from being a lawyer to joining Scotiabank has everything to do with me holding this belief that I can have a greater impact if I take the knowledge I have as a practising lawyer and apply it in a context that allows communities to unlock opportunities for economic development,” says Davey, who is now Vice President, Indigenous Financial Services at Scotiabank. 

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“The common thread is that it’s all about what I can do to contribute to make the Indigenous community stronger, and what can I do to help make things better for future generations?”

— Jonathan Davey, Scotiabank VP of Indigenous Financial Services

His impact during his short time at the Bank has been significant.

  • In his first six months on the job he created the Bank’s Indigenous Cultural Competency program, designed to educate employees about the cultures, histories and traditions of Indigenous peoples through a combination of learning tools and teachings from traditional knowledge keepers.
  • Scotiabank now holds the highest rating for Progressive Aboriginal Relations given by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (Gold Level).
  • Scotiabank is the only financial institution member of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Task Force on corporate/Indigenous engagement.

Those and other successes were recognized recently when Davey was chosen as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, an annual award for young business leaders. Recipients of the award, created by the executive search firm Caldwell, have often gone on to become household names in the Canadian business community.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the selection of this year’s Top 40,” said Jeff Freeborough, Managing Partner of Caldwell’s Toronto office. “It’s easy to understand why we recognize and celebrate these 40 individuals- as you will see, they are truly remarkable young leaders who are dedicated to and passionate about their work and their communities.”

Davey and others on the list were selected out of nearly 1,200 nominations from across Canada.

“Jonathan is an exemplary business and community leader, using his vision and commitment to grow the Indigenous economy and expand the advice and solutions Scotiabank provides to Indigenous communities across Canada,” said Dan Rees, Group Head, Canadian Banking for Scotiabank. “On behalf of all of Scotiabank, I want to express my sincere congratulations to Jonathan on this well-deserved recognition as one of Canada’s very best. We’re proud of everything he does each day to drive impact and prosperity for Indigenous businesses and peoples in Canada.”

Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs can face obstacles that other Canadians don’t. For example, the Indian Act prevents a person with status who lives on reserve from being able to use their asset base as collateral.

“It’s an incredible restriction,” Davey says. “It makes it extremely difficult for an individual or a business operating on reserve to actually access capital, which is key to growth.”

Davey and his team try to help realize the value of those assets in other ways, such as through leasing, permits or licences. His deep knowledge of the applicable legislation — the Indian Act and First Nations Land Management Act, for example — help to come up with different approaches to those problems.

“It’s this ethos that the Bank has that there’s a different way to do things,” he says. “We just need to find where those knowledge gaps are so we can start to fill them and better serve Indigenous populations that have traditionally been underserved by the entire financial industry.”

Despite the obstacles, he sees much to be optimistic about — more Indigenous entrepreneurs, more Indigenous businesses getting involved in corporate supply chains, and banks and financial institutions focusing more on how they can better serve Indigenous populations.

“We’re watching the rise of the Indigenous entrepreneur.”

Davey brings personal as well as professional experience to his role. He is of mixed Haudenosaunee and non-Indigenous descent. He shares his Lower Cayuga heritage, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, with his father. That heritage certainly helped him in understanding the communities he worked with, but he sees himself as constantly learning about the many Peoples that make up Canada’s Indigenous population.

“I get to work with communities in all parts of the country who have different cultures, histories, traditions and languages than my own,” Davey said. “To me, that’s inspiring, and when we talk about understanding the culture or understanding the populations that we serve, a big part of that is understanding perspective.

“I’ve got an obligation to the community to help remove some of the barriers, the constraints that I see now. The only way you really do that is if you understand what the people before you may have gone through. Working with residential school survivors provided a perspective that remains invaluable to me because there is so much that survivors went through, that the people before me went through, so that I could have the opportunities that I have today.”