It wasn’t that long ago that First Nations owned businesses were considered major players in the world of big business. Fast forward to 2017 and Saskatchewan based File Hills Qu’Appelle Developments Inc. (FHQ Dev) is a multi-million dollar operation.
FHQ Dev is the business entity of the File Hills Qu’appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC), which governs 11 First Nations in and around the Fort Qu’appelle region. In September 2016, FHQ Dev decided to appoint a young and business savvy CEO and president, Thomas Benjoe, from the Muscowpetung First Nation to take the helm.
“We are focused on major growth,” said Benjoe. “We’re trying to foster as much growth as possible in our communities,” he said.
Unlike FHQTC and First Nation reserves, whose operating dollars are earmarked for social development, health and education, FHQ Dev is driven by building profits and is funded by its business endeavors.
“When it comes to profit distribution…we utilize some of that capital from our companies (to) reinvest into more companies so we can further expand our business,” said Benjoe.
Formed in 2010, FHQ Dev has already had success and and turned profits in a number of different industries, including construction, oil and gas, renewable energy and the hospitality industry.
It’s Benjoe’s vision to continue with that strategy.
“We don’t want to remain only in one industry, we need to diversify our portfolio of companies,” he said.
“If there is a dip in the economy, such as oil and gas, it creates a risk (for) deficit…so we’re taking a lot of those profits and investing in new companies,” said Benjoe.
Benjoe is no stranger to multi-million dollar deals. Prior to taking this new position, he was a commercial banker for one of Canada’s biggest financial institutions, where he helped many First Nation reserves acquire finances for new business throughout the province.
A key player in Saskatchewan’s economic growth, K+S Potash, recognized the opportunities FHQ Dev presented and jumped at the opportunity to establish a working relationship.
K+S Potash Canada’s lead advisor of Indigenous initiatives, Terry Bird, said organizations such as FHQ Dev are important to the province.
“It’s always been a key role to make sure that industry people understand First Nation and Metis peoples history as well as their interests with regards to industry,” said Bird, who is a member of the George Gordon First Nation.
According to Bird, the K+S Potash Corporation’s Legacy project in Bethune, Sask., hired FHQ Developments as one of their contractors in 2013, which led to hundreds of First Nations people gaining employment on the project.
Some of the areas of employment included general labour, general electrical, pumping and maintenance of the site and camp.
“(In) mid 2016, we had an account of 344 Indigenous people working for us through our contractors,” said Bird.
“It’s also important to make sure that they’re finding solutions that work in a way that provides a win/win situation for both First Nations and Metis people as well as industry,” he said.
It’s endeavors like this the one with K+S that Benjoe wants to continue forging in 2017.
With 15,000 citizens represented by FHQTC, Benjoe wants to ensure FHQ Dev continues to create labour opportunities for First Nations peoples and to continue creating wealth.
“We are going to focus on business development,” says Benjoe. “(The) labour force will follow suit as well as supporting some of our own entrepreneurs…in our communities.”