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BMO partners with the Native Women’s Association of Canada to support Indigenous women

BMO is committed to contributing to the economic self-sufficiency of Indigenous communities, businesses, and individuals across Canada. Our success in developing and nurturing effective relationships and partnerships with Indigenous communities garnered us a gold-level Progressive Indigenous Relations award from the Canadian Council for Indigenous Business.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is a national Indigenous organization whose goal it is to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and gender-diverse people. Through advocacy, policy, and legislative analysis, NWAC works to preserve Indigenous culture and advance the well-being of all Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people, as well as their families and communities.

Two national organizations with similar goals and principles—it was a partnership meant to be.

NWAC was growing exponentially—from 12 full-time employees in 2018 to more than 80 at the beginning of 2020—and needed new, larger space to accommodate their staff and growing body of programs. They were looking for a permanent location, not the rental space they had been occupying, to deliver and expand their programs and initiatives.

Enter 120 Promenade du Portage in the heart of the business district in Gatineau, Quebec.

The Social and Economic Innovation Centre, to be completed in June 2021, will be a hub for Indigenous resiliency and economic development, with an emphasis on promoting Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship. Beyond office and meeting space, NWAC’s new home will feature a library to house documents related to the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) crisis and offer gender-specific policy, research, legal, and youth advocacy services. The Centre will also serve as a business incubator and deliver cutting-edge entrepreneurship and employment training initiatives.

A series of revenue-generating activities will support the financial stability of the organization. These include: revenue generating meeting rooms that are culturally appropriate will be rented, an artisanal storefront for showcasing and selling items made by Indigenous artisans here in Canada and across the Americas; a take-out café offering traditional foods; a commercial and training kitchen; and cultural awareness workshops geared to the business and government sectors.

“Having a permanent home changes everything for NWAC,” says CEO Lynne Groulx. “The building opens up many new possibilities for our non-profit. The revenue alone that will come out of this building will be unprecedented and will allow us to consistently support our community. It not only gives us the flexibility when it comes to the range of programs and services we can provide, but also creates the potential for future growth. And this couldn’t have happened without the support of BMO.”

BMO’s help in securing this new space has been key.

“BMO understood our vision from the get-go,” says Lynne. “With BMO’s help, we can make our work even more stable and continuous—and that allows us to better serve the community.”

The partnership with BMO began with an initial contact for help from NWAC’s CFO, Alan McRae. BMO’s Mark Shadeed, Vice President, Indigenous Banking, Quebec & Atlantic, was thrilled to meet with Alan. He and his team put together a deal enabling NWAC to acquire the Promenade du Portage building very quickly—within 10 days. “To structure a deal, have it authorized, and put it together within a week and a half is extremely impressive,” says Alan. “We were so impressed with BMO’s speed and efficiency. The process has been so refreshing.”

During this whirlwind period, NWAC was also working on establishing a healing centre for Indigenous women.  Search for another new building began. Enter the Resiliency Lodge, located on a secluded property in Gatineau, Quebec.

The Resiliency Lodge is one of NWAC’s key responses to the Calls for Justice of the National Inquiry. An innovative service delivery model geared to Indigenous women and gender-diverse people who are dealing with trauma and discrimination, the lodge “is a tangible expression of Indigenous women’s human right to live in safety,” says Lynne. Through ceremony and guidance from the Elders, the women who enter its calming doors and those who experience the program virtually will experience culturally centred healing in a warm and welcoming place featuring the work of Indigenous artists.

NWAC is delighted with this new partnership. It’s a win-win for both partners.

BMO is equally delighted.

“BMO and NWAC have created a long-term partnership with them to make a significant contribution to the economic development of Indigenous communities. It is also an opportunity to support the economic resilience of Indigenous Peoples while promoting entrepreneurship and training initiatives among Indigenous women,” said Mark Shadeed, Vice President, Indigenous Banking, BMO Bank of Montreal. “We want to help create an environment that promotes a culture of success without complexity. With these bold goals, we need to take action and invest in this community to make a difference in their lives and in their businesses.”

Stephane Beausejour, Senior Relationship Manager, who worked on the deal with Mark, agrees. “Everybody at BMO wanted to collaborate to get this deal done,” he says. “We really pushed to make it happen.”

NWAC has now transferred all its business to BMO, and Lynne is excited for what comes next. For one thing, NWAC plans to build more women’s shelters across Canada.

“It’s been such a positive experience, one that’s proving to be more than just a business partnership,” says NWAC’s CEO. “We want a meaningful relationship with partners who support and believe in the work that we do, and the future we want to build.”

Over the last three decades, BMO has had a leading presence in supporting long-term sustainable economic growth for Indigenous communities and is committed to progress for Indigenous peoples across three pillars that reflect the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) call to action for corporate Canada: education, employment and economic empowerment. Learn more by visiting our resources hub.

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