Treaty 4 News is excited to present the Top 10 Most Influential Economic Developers feature that profiles business leaders, job creators and entrepreneurs who have made a valuable contribution to improving the lives of Indigenous people through business and have helped keep Saskatchewan’s economy vibrant and strong. 

In the past few years, more and more Indigenous people have forged business careers working at the First Nation community level, building Tribal Council economic development projects, climbing the corporate ladder at government Crown Corporations and in the last few years guiding the private sector as they engage with First Nations.

Now a new generation of entrepreneurs are building successful brands like Neechie Gear, Shop Indigenous, SheNative as they develop products for an ever growing Indigenous market.

Over 10 weeks, Treaty 4 News will release one profile a week of an economic developer we believe is influential in building a better future for Indigenous people through business.

This week we introduce Thomas Benjoe.

Thomas Benjoe – Top 10 economic developer

By Brad Bellegarde

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Thomas Benjoe at the grand opening of the Tim Horton’s in Fort Qu’Appelle in June 2015. Photo credit: Brad Bellegarde.

In a day and age where economic development is a key area of focus for First Nations leadership, they need investment capital to start their project. This is where Thomas Benjoe enters the conversation.

Thomas Benjoe is a member of the Muscowpetung First Nation and he is quickly making a name for himself as a commercial account manager, aboriginal banking specialist with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). According to Annette Sabourin, vice-president, commercial banking, for central and northern Canada, he is exactly what they were looking for.

“He had the raw talent that we were looking for in an individual…he leads from his heart and it definitely shows,” said Sabourin. “He has such a strong reputation in the market that he’s almost become a centre of influence…being First Nation himself, he’s able to bring that cultural component to the banking side,” she added.

Benjoe grew up in Regina’s notoriously known ‘north central’ neighbourhood. After graduating from Scott Collegiate, Benjoe enrolled into University with aspirations of becoming an engineer but after his first semester he said business seemed to be a better fit.

As a student at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), Benjoe was a natural leader. In his third year of university, Benjoe, was elected as the vice-president of finance for the FNUniv students’ association.

Shortly after his election, FNUniv hit a rocky patch of uncertainty. Administrative hardships led to the suspension of funding from both provincial and federal governments.

As a student leader, him and his team organized a live-in at FNUniv and stayed there for more than 60 days.

“The student association really played a key role in helping to turn things around at that time of the university,” said Richard Missens, associate professor at FNUniv.

“(Thomas) and the other students did the protests, the lobbying (and) they became really instrumental in helping design a solution for FNUniv at the time of dealing with the crisis,” he said.

The ability to be resilient and persevere through those hardships paid off for Benjoe. Employment offers started piling up before he graduated. He attended Inclusion Works, a recruitment fair organized by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council, which brings Canada’s top Indigenous undergraduate students together with potential employers.

“I ended up taking interviews from every financial institution (along with) casinos and petroleum companies…it was quite an array of job opportunities I was given,” he said.

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Recognizing the potential to help Indigenous communities on a larger scale, it was RBC that sparked interest in a young Benjoe.  “RBC wasn’t on the list to be interviewed with, but I spent some time with the aboriginal banking specialist from Ontario and he told me about what he does…so I had more of a keen interest in RBC,” said Benjoe.

“By the morning I had offers from all the financial institutions nationally but RBC sent theirs that morning and the commitment I was given from them was that I was able to stay in Regina…I didn’t have to move to Toronto (or) relocate and they were going to be a little more flexible with my degree,” he said.

Upon completion of University, Benjoe immediately began working in the commercial sector of banking and hasn’t looked back.

He has spent the last five years as a commercial account manager, aboriginal banking specialist and he is currently working with 40 First Nation communities in Saskatchewan.

His work in the community hasn’t gone unnoticed. Benjoe has been awarded the CBC Future 40 award and the Red Cross Young Humanitarian Award. He was also featured in Ones to Watch in Treaty 4 News.

According to his supervisor, Benjoe, has exceeded every performance target for his role at RBC and because of this, he was awarded RBC’s Diversity Leadership Award and most recently, was selected as a Convention winner.

Each year, the employees are recognized as Convention winners on an exclusive Convention Cruise for RBC’s top performing one per-cent and Benjoe was one of them.

“If you have an interest in the financial services industry, think about your career, where do you want to go? Do you want to be able to travel and go different places? Those opportunities are there for you. It’s all about you and your goals,” said Benjoe.

 

 

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