Delegates from several First Nations gather at business forum at Treaty Four Governance Centre.  Photo by Manfred Joehnck.

About 75 delegates from First Nations around Southern Saskatchewan got a crash course on the new world of business opportunities today.

They attended a forum at the Treaty Four Governance Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle put on by the First Nations economic development network.

Executive director, Shaun Soonias says it is a rapidly changing business world with new opportunities emerging every day.

“So we need to work from developing gas stations and convenience stores to having information hubs and implementing things like different technology in the agricultural field,” he said. Soonias adds,“We really have to look at what is coming down the pipe and be ready for it. ”

One of the presenters at the forum was Thomas Benjoe, the president and C.E.O. of File Hills, Qu’Appelle development. He was a former banker and knows the difficulty First Nations face trying to get financing to develop a business portfolio and move away from reliance on government funding.

“We seem to see the public blame them for their own inability to manage, but it’s not that,” he said. “It’s the system, the system affects their ability to manage.”

He says other groups that rely on government funding don’t face all of the red tape, regulations and restrictions that First Nations have to deal with.

Benjoe says FHQ started with no capital, no companies, but it had a vision, good governance, including outside experts and now has a portfolio with annual revenues of 35 million.

The one day business forum is a response to one of the calls to action in the truth and reconciliation report that states the corporate sector must engage in meaningful consultation and develop respectful relationships with Indigenous communities and businesses. The focus was on youth, building partnerships, understanding the changing business climate and learning the Ins and Outs of how to develop a diversified portfolio.