Advancing reconciliation together: Supporting First Nations communities' financial wellness
Photo: Home of Niigaaniin Ontario Works
Canada's diverse landscape is home to many First Nation communities. Despite the availability of resources, these communities often face neglect in accessing vital financial support. The Financial Wellness in First Nations project is attempting to change this reality by bringing together non-profit organizations, community service centres, and Indigenous community organizations in a transformative partnership. This two-year project funded by IG Wealth Management aims to embed culturally appropriate financial wellness support in several First Nation communities.
As leaders of financial empowerment in Canada, AFOA Canada, Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS), SEED Winnipeg (SEED), Sudbury Community Service Centre (SCSC), and Prosper Canada are committed to ensuring that First Nations across Canada have access to the financial empowerment (FE) services they need to build their financial wellness, understood “as a holistic concept seen as “living a good life” and having a “good mind” built on Indigenous values, culture and language”. This commitment aligned well with the IG Wealth Management’s Empower Your Tomorrow Indigenous Commitment that supports programs and initiatives to further the financial confidence of Indigenous communities in Canada.
Beginning in 2021, IG Wealth Management provided funding to Prosper Canada, AFOA and three Financial Empowerment Champions (FEC) in Ontario and Manitoba, to embed culturally appropriate financial wellness supports in 4+ First Nation communities. For example, FECs work with the Indigenous community organization Niigaaniin Services to provide financial support programs to Sagamok First Nation. Partway through Year 2, project partners have renewed or established relationships with 20+ First Nation communities connecting more than 2,700 members with FE services and supports and over $6M estimated new income secured.
Promoting Financial Wellness: Insights from a rural Ontario partnership
Addressing challenges and fostering partnerships
Early on it was apparent that there would be challenges that would need to be overcome throughout the project such as the need for sustainable funding and capacity building within the communities. Building trust and forming partnerships emerged as crucial elements in successful financial wellness programs. John's non-judgmental and relatable approach, coupled with an understanding of cultural values, has made him a sought-after resource within the community. Collaborative efforts with First Nation community organizations have allowed for a holistic approach, connecting community members with complementary services. One notable example of John’s collaborative efforts was catering specific services to the community's needs. In Sagamok First Nation, located on the north shore of Lake Huron, John worked primarily to help individuals file their taxes. In other communities, he provides services related to accessing benefits.
John believes, “it's the flexibility that the community liked.” Once he had developed a relationship with the community, he would then introduce other services as well. Reaching out to communities based on existing relationships and population size allowed the project to address immediate financial challenges through workshops and services. As Francine notes, another challenge that emerged for the Sudbury team was finding the “right person that’s willing to be trained on a few things that we offer.” John maintains that overcoming this challenge in part, is to ensure he is available “to help them” and not “just stand on the sidelines.” Building trust and being consistently present in the communities played a key role in delivering successful FE services, leading to positive reception and expansion all around.
Anitha Thillainathan is a Senior Officer, Marketing and Communications at Prosper Canada.