Located in Treaty 8 Territory, about 45 minutes north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN). Home to 900 Cree and Dene members, FMFN is called, “Aoapaskaw” in Cree, meaning “where there are plants one after another”. With the goal of becoming fully economically self- sufficient, FMFN has consistently pursued diversification of its business portfolio. Also referred to as economic sovereignty, when a First Nation is economically self- sufficient, it results in strong governance, healthy and thriving community members, and a prosperous future.

Chief Raymond Powder explains, “We want our nation members to thrive. Fort McKay First Nation’s vision is to build a strong and healthy community and nation. We strive to provide all the necessary resources for social programs, health care, education, infrastructure while developing our economic capacity. We have evolved over the last 37 years of business endeavours and managing prosperity.”

The Nation is well on its way to becoming fully self-sufficient, with only 5-10% of its annual budget stemming from government sources, and the rest funded with its business income.

Today, the Nation has $700 Million assets under management, with a portfolio of 18 companies that generate approximately $500Million in annual revenue.

The evolution of FMFN’s business portfolio began in 1986, with the Fort McKay Group of Companies (FMGOC). Starting with a janitorial contract the Group of Companies has now grown to include five subsidiaries, servicing the surrounding oil sands clients. Recently awarded the largest contract in history by Imperial Oil to an Indigenous supplier, the Group of Companies has grown into a progressive, competitive, and well-recognized brand in the Wood Buffalo region.

Councillor Bobby Shott shared, “that while it is obvious that FMFN receives financial benefits and employment opportunities from the FMGOC, what may not be clear to others is that the FMGOC is a very large employer of Indigenous people from other communities. We are employing Indigenous peoples from over 75 other First Nation and Métis communities across Canada, with an Indigenous employment rate close to 30% and with a very high number of Indigenous women in leadership positions. This means these families and communities are being positively impacted by the work FMFN is doing in our region.”

Since its inception, the FMGOC has also provided significant economic benefits to Albertans, contributing over $1billion in accumulated business activity.

Fast forward to twenty years later, in the early 2000s, FMFN again diversified its portfolio with the creation of Fort McKay Landing (FM Landing) and launch of Fund 1. Fort McKay Landing is the private equity firm wholly owned by the Nation with the strategy of investing in companies across the industrial services, trades, manufacturing, real estate, and professional services industries. With great foresight for ensuring the economic stability of the Nation, each year Chief and Council allocate a fund to be deployed by FM Landing into new investments. Fund 1 is fully funded by FMFN, consisting of 15 portfolio companies located across Canada. These investments are predominantly small-medium enterprises across the forementioned industries, as well as two major infrastructure investments.

Councillor Bobby Shott noted, “What differentiates FM Landing from other private equity firms is first of all, we are the first private equity firm owned by a First Nation. Second, we are a long term investor without the standard 5-7 year exit requirements. Third, we have an evergreen fund so we can always deploy more capital into a portfolio company to pay for growth or acquisitions. We take a co-ownership approach with other shareholders and focus on mutual interests to grow the business together.”

Defying expectations, FMFN has achieved a balanced business portfolio that supports its community. Many Canadians still don’t expect a First Nation to have a large business portfolio, yet FMFN is doing just that.

Councillor Bobby Shott added, “We also have a strong track record of partnering with other private equity firms to pursue investments, and we look forward to building more of these relationships across North America, as we are well-positioned to work with the currently under-served First Nations business sector.”

It’s no small feat to achieve a reasonable balance between the preservation of its culture and environment, and its business activities, but that’s exactly what the Nation has managed to achieve over the last few forty years. By using its expertise gained through decades working with the FMGOC and incorporating a diversified investment portfolio through FM Landing, the First Nation is well-positioned to withstand any economic uncertainty. You only need to visit the community to see the impacts their diversified portfolio has had. The community of Fort McKay is beautiful, with a new Cree and Dene school operated by the Nation, a senior care facility, and other infrastructure that you could expect to find in any small town in Canada.

When asked what Chief Powder is most proud of, he responded, “the most important thing we are accomplishing is that we are ensuring our Elders are taken care of and our youth have a bright future in front of them.”

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