Among Canada’s Indigenous peoples, the combination of entrepreneurial drive, long-term wealth management practices, and rising interest in public and private partnerships suggest the great potential for Indigenous communities to build economic success.
At the same time, these opportunities are offset by legislative constraints on raising capital, the challenges of operating enterprises in remote places, and a historic legacy of distrust felt by Indigenous Peoples. Fortunately, Scotiabank’s Indigenous Financial Services group is eager to tackle the most complex business problems facing Indigenous Peoples, through knowledge-sharing that helps commercial clients navigate the challenges.
Getting in the weeds to find solutions
Taking on big challenges in Indigenous communities is nothing new to Scotiabank, since it opened Canada’s first on-reserve bank branch on Blood Tribe lands in Stand Off Alberta in 1971. And today, fifty years later, the Bank continues to bring innovation to Indigenous clients, under the leadership of Jon Davey, Vice President, Indigenous Financial Services.
We look for the most challenging deals, where we have to ‘lift the heaviest’ to help Indigenous business, communities or individuals access capital,” says Davey. “Rather than viewing the legislated restrictions faced by Indigenous peoples as a ‘constraint,’ we see them as opportunities to establish creative deal structures that allow us to share knowledge with communities and businesses to help them overcome the hurdles.”
Davey refers to the Indian Act and associated regulations that restrict First Nations from using their on-reserve lands or assets as collateral for borrowing: “We traverse through the legislative and regulatory regimes to find the best ways for communities and businesses to leverage their assets, by studying enterprise articles of incorporation, analyzing revenue flows, and helping align financing structures with federal land and tax regulations.”
If this sounds like intensive, legal leg work, it is, admits Davey. As a member of Southern Ontario’s Six Nations of the Grand River, he spent a decade as a Federal Crown Counsel in the Aboriginal Law division. “I often view each opportunity first through a legal lens so I can understand the systems Indigenous communities have in place so I can best assist them in reaching their economic development goals,” he explains. “It’s my responsibility to share knowledge and best practices to make things better for future generations.”
Davey collaborates with colleagues across Scotiabank, to support a diverse roster of Indigenous clients that include First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples: “We bring the right team in front of the client depending on their needs, whether that’s commercial lending expertise, wealth or trust advice, or Cash Management services. And we ensure that everyone has the cultural competency and sensitivity to work effectively with our clients.”
Listening first, to build understanding
While Davey is dedicated to sharing knowledge with Indigenous communities, he emphasizes that the most important step is listening.
We can only serve clients effectively if we first understand as much as possible about them – not only about their business goals, but also their culture, history, traditions and vision for their future.”
By doing so, the team gains a better understanding of the client’s challenges, whether they include Canada’s legal and regulatory framework, the intricacies of running an enterprise in a remote location, or a community’s historic and systemic relationship with non-Indigenous parties that may have created deep mistrust. “This knowledge is important for us to build trust with communities and businesses and understand where they want to go, to make things better,” explains Davey.
Such due diligence also helps one appreciate the economic opportunity within reach of the 1.7 million people who identify as Indigenous persons in Canada. For example, while it is estimated that there are currently more than 50,000 Indigenous-owned businesses that contribute in excess of $30 billion annually to Canada’s economy1 , respected groups like the Indigenomics Institute envision this economy could soon grow to $100 billion.2
Davey also sees this potential, in light of the growing movement among Indigenous groups to seek equity roles in major development and infrastructure projects: “In the past, many Indigenous communities signed Impact-Benefit Agreements with private developers or governments, but now we see a greater desire and effectiveness by Indigenous groups to obtain control of major projects that impact their lands and peoples, often through an equity-based model.”
In addition, across the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, there is momentum among Indigenous entrepreneurs, and a rising number of limited partnerships, in many industries from agriculture and energy to the technology and service sectors. The driving factors include entrepreneurial development efforts by groups like the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, the unexpected impact of COVID-19 (which helped accelerate e-commerce in Canada and overseas), and rising government interest in Indigenous development and economic growth.
Turning knowledge-sharing into growth
Davey proudly points to a number of recent Indigenous Financial Services transactions, including a financing agreement signed with a British Columbia First Nation that was planning a large, tenant-leased business park. Recognizing that the project was dependent on numerous external partners, and faced a prolonged timeframe, Davey and Will Pigott, Senior Client Relationship Manager, drafted an in-depth, multi-stage financing proposal and walked the prospective client through the complex land tenure system and designation process that lay ahead.
Although the Band initially granted the mandate to another bank, within a matter of weeks they reversed their decision, and gave the financing role to Scotiabank, since Davey and Pigott had demonstrated superior expertise on the project’s complexities.
Pigott reflects on how they won back the business from a rival bank:
Any bank can win a deal on pricing or risk appetite, but not any bank can explain the nuances of the Indigenous land tenure system, or how to create a revenue remittance model that will give you the best cash flow to finance the deal. These are some of the ‘in the weeds’ considerations, and that’s where Scotiabank is ready to go to serve our clients.”
Pigott reiterates that he believes in building relationships with the Indigenous communities and always leaving them with something positive.
“We’re doing things differently, since we believe we can serve Indigenous clients best by navigating through the constraints that make it difficult for them to access capital. And, we’re focused on innovation, to fill gaps in the market with products or services designed exclusively for Indigenous clients,” says Davey.
There’s real strength in Canada’s Indigenous economy, and it’s growing. By listening, knowledge-sharing and offering innovation, we can really understand where Indigenous business, communities and peoples are going, and help each community achieve its vision for future generations.”
Nuliaqup Nipinga, 2017
Colour pencil on paper
23 x 30 inches