Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What are they smoking at First Nations Bank?

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There has always been this big bulge in Manitoba's population that reflects so-called baby boomers, that disproportionately large generation born during the 20 years following the Second World War. The only thing comparable in the province today is the huge increase in our native population.

The original baby boomers have dominated our music and culture (Why do you think we are still listening to the Rolling Stones and guys like Paul McCartney fill our stadiums with parents, grandparents and grandchildren?)

But for a long time, there was little hope these "hippies" would amount to anything, especially in business. They smoked pot, dressed funny, their music was strange and they had long hair.

Flash forward and those hippies, such as Steven Jobs, have become the tycoons of industry and technology.

And, according to Keith Martell, CEO of the First Nations Bank of Canada, this is exactly what is going to happen to the First Nations boomers who are under 25 now but remain a bulge in our demographics for years to come.

Now, I can already hear some readers saying First Nations people are different. I'm not going to get into that argument because it is mostly based on opinions or relatively limited research and experience.

I'm just going to give you some interesting facts Martell presented to a near-capacity crowd at a luncheon of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce at the Winnipeg Convention Centre last week.

The First Nations Bank was established to loan money to First Nations people, mostly commercial investments, but also mortgages and other loans as banks do. The bank has just completed its 12th straight year of profitable operations and now has assets of $300 million (audited financial statements are published annually).

You don't have that kind of success rate unless you are dealing with corporations that are managed competently by hard-working people who are marketing goods and services to ready markets that are expanding.

The First Nations Bank is primarily owned and operated by First Nations people. This could be one of the major factors in their success.

"The Aboriginal Capital Corporation that started the bank took over a First Nations loan program which was administered by the federal government, which had an 80 per cent failure rate, and brought that rate down to 1.5 per cent," Martell says. "First Nations Bank has since built on that success and experience and should convince First Nations and all Canadians to take a look at us and bring their banking business to First Nations Bank of Canada."

There's a big boom happening and the First Nations Bank is cashing in on it. Martell is inviting all Canadians to get involved. They might be wise to do so.

I was invited to the luncheon by the banks local senior commercial accounts manager Tom Thordarson, who told me he is sick of reading "negative stories" about First Nations people. Thordarson, from Peguis First Nation, is married with one child, lives in West Kildonan, loves taking holidays in the Dominican Republic and joining his neighbours in supporting the Jets and the Bombers.

Thordarson and Martell have accounting and business degrees up the ying yang. They are ignoring the stereotypes and looking at the facts.

And business is booming.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer. He couldn't find any members of the mainstream media at the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2013 A9

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