“Everything is Possible”: Building Relationships with Indigenous Employees and Communities
Marc Kilchling, an Associate Private Banker with BMO Private Wealth in Toronto who is also a proud member of Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, recently interviewed Manitoban commercial banker Travis Kirton, a proud member of the Métis Nation, about his life and career.
As a young child, Travis Kirton split his time between his grandparents’ farm in rural Manitoba and his home in the suburbs of Winnipeg.
Nowadays though, he’s quite a bit closer to the downtown core, working out of BMO’s Winnipeg headquarters as a Relationship Manager, with a focus on our agricultural and Indigenous business clients.
It’s not only growing up on a farm that suits Travis to this role – he is one of over 350 BMO employees that share an Indigenous background. He is a proud member of the Métis Nation – one of Canada’s recognized Indigenous peoples who helped shape Manitoba’s history.
Travis is also part of the newly reformed Winnipeg chapter of Sharing Circle, a group for BMO employees of First Nations descent and their allies, whose goal is to share their history while supporting interpersonal and career development.
“Growing up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about my [background]. I knew it was my heritage, but it wasn’t until university that it opened up my eyes and let me understand the history,” Travis said.
Travis’ story echoes that of many of our First Nations peoples in Canada. Generations past did not have the chance to recognize and celebrate their background – instead, they were often forced to assimilate into their surroundings, and ended up losing the connection to their heritage.
His journey to discovery began when he took his first steps to post-secondary education. University of Manitoba recognized Travis as an Indspire scholar – a unique, merit-based scholarship that provides funding to First Nations students based on both academics and community involvement.
“I got involved with [Indigenous] student union groups, and it taught me that everything is possible,” Travis said. “Now, with all that I know and have been through, I have the opportunity to speak to university students, employees and customers to share that knowledge. The message I share is ‘it is possible.’”
Indigenous students are underrepresented in our university and college system, with only 44% attending post-secondary institutions compared to 63% for non-Indigenous peoples. These numbers are why BMO is focusing on building strong relationships with both our current and future Indigenous employees – doing our part to help close the gap.
Today Travis gets the chance to build those relationships with Indigenous communities.
“Our clients like BMO’s commitment to the community,” Travis said. “My history helps me understand, but more importantly, my clients appreciate our shared background, and feel confident that BMO understands them – and we will achieve our goals together.”
Travis’ role allows him to work closely with BMO’s Indigenous Banking Unit. Created back in 1992, this team works to improve access to financial services and employment opportunities for our First Nations partners. From financial literacy seminars for youth and elders at local branches to infrastructure financing to help bring clean water to communities, the bank is helping build the foundation for economic self-sufficiency in our Indigenous communities.
Ensuring that BMO can find and grow employees like Travis is a major goal for Sheba Alfred, the bank’s Senior Advisor – Talent, Inclusion and Learning. Having previously worked in the Indigenous Banking Unit, she brings all that experience to a role that works closely with BMO’s Indigenous employees, helping find the right career path that fits each individual.
“My job is to get them more engaged, create a sense of belonging and put our arms around each employee,” Sheba said. “We want them to have a long and enjoyable career with BMO.”
That support for our Indigenous employees is one of the reasons BMO is recognized as a gold member of PAR, a national organization committed to bridging the gap between our corporate sector and First Nation’s communities. Part of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, PAR recognizes organizations that commit to improving relations and fostering growth for our Indigenous communities.
Travis hopes that by sharing his story others will realize there are opportunities out there and BMO is committed to growing our relations with First Nations communities.
“I’ve seen great improvement from management and leaders to grow and change our perspectives.” Travis said. “It’s about embracing diversity and the opportunities it brings.”