Former youth board member now spearheads thriving corporation
By Sam Laskaris
Back in 2010, when he was still a student at the First Nations University of Canada, Thomas Benjoe was brought on board as the youth representative for a newly-established company.
That company was File Hills Qu’Appelle (FHQ) Developments, a corporation that represents the economic interests of File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council, consisting of 11 First Nations in Saskatchewan.
Benjoe has remained with the company since Day 1. After serving six years as a board member, he was appointed as the president and CEO of FHQ Developments in September of 2016.
“We’re an organization that started off with a $10 investment from each of our First Nations plus our Tribal Council,” Benjoe said.
Today, FHQ Developments is a multi-million-dollar corporation. Its interests include oil and gas, mining, hospitality, tech and renewable energy companies.
Benjoe explained how the corporation has thrived and has been able to keep reps from various First Nations satisfied.
“We have a board and we have a specific governance model in place that tries to keep the politics out of it,” he said.
FHQ Developments collectively represents the interests of about 17,000 citizens from all of the First Nations under its umbrella.
Many others across the country have taken notice of Benjoe’s leadership and FHQ Developments’ successes.
As a result, it’s not the least bit surprising that he is one of the two finalists for Cando’s Economic Developer of the Year award this year.
James Stevens from Millbrook First Nation is Nova Scotia is the other finalist for the top economic developer accolade. Stevens is currently serving as the director of commercial operations for his First Nation.
The winner will be selected at this year’s Cando Conference, scheduled for June 26-29 in Membertou, N.S.
Awards will also be presented at the conference to the top Indigenous community and the best company in the Indigenous Private Sector Business category.
“I guess it’s exciting to be nominated,” said Benjoe, a member of Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation in Saskatchewan. “We have been doing a lot to try and address what Indigenous businesses mean to us in our neck of the woods.”
Muscowpetung is one of the 11 First Nations which make up the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council.
The others are Nekaneet First Nation, Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation, Piapot First Nation, Pasqua First Nation, Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, Okanese First Nation, Star Blanket Cree Nation, Peepeekisis Cree Nation, Carry-The-Kettle Nakoda Nation and Little Black Bear’s Band of Cree & Assiniboine Nations.
One of Benjoe’s most significant accomplishments with his corporation was finalized earlier this year when he worked alongside members of Regina’s procurement team. He was able to get the city officials to agree to an Indigenous procurement policy that will lead to a mandatory 20 per cent of Regina procurement spending.
“That’s never been done anywhere else in Canada,” Benjoe said, adding most other Indigenous procurement policies are five per cent.
So how was Benjoe able to set the bar that high with Regina reps?
“I have a good relationship with the mayor,” he said. “It’s taken two years and a tremendous amount of work. It was a thorough and engaging process.”
Benjoe is keen to share his story and the positives emerging from his First Nation at the Cando Conference.
And he enjoys the fact FHQ Developments is considered a role model.
“I want to be able to share information with other Nations,” he said.
Benjoe said he frequently accepts speaking engagements in order to let others know how FHQ Developments has been able to have its share of successes.
“I do that so Indigenous economic developers can learn from us about the unique strategies we’ve had,” he said.