Indigenous community

A commitment to partnering with Indigenous communities


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We spoke with two leaders passionate about their job and the role they play in influencing positive change.

traditionally painted buildings and totem pole in carcoss yukon

Dale Sturges, national director, Indigenous Financial Services Group and Jemison Jackson, director, Indigenous Wealth, share their thoughts on RBC’s commitment to partnering with Indigenous people in Canada.

Can you share something about yourself that has shaped or made a difference in how you approach your role and work?

Sturges: I always say it’s work that’s chosen me. It’s not something I ever imagined I would do - but through a number of circumstances and accidents of chance, I was asked to lead the Indigenous strategy in 2008. It turned out to be work I felt compelled to do. I was fortunate to have more experiences at RBC and I’m now back leading this segment for a second time - and the need for the work is greater than ever.

If I reflect on what compels me, I think of my early childhood when I immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe. The sponsoring family was on a farm in Alberta and we had to get there by passing through a Blackfoot community. Passing through this territory felt to me - as a child - not much different from what I had just left. In terms of coming from an Apartheid system in Africa, it felt like I was entering a segregated society. It’s an image that I’ve reflected on as an adult - how unfortunate that as a child, arriving in Canada, a country of freedom and where the notion of segregated society didn’t exist, that was one of my first impressions. Doing this work inspires me so I can contribute to change in a meaningful way - as an informed, committed ally.

Jackson: My first exposure to working with Indigenous communities was as a new lawyer at an Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Litigation law firm. I enjoyed working with the clients, but found the work to be unfulfilling as nothing ever seemed to be resolved. When I decided that I was ready to leave the law practice, I found an opportunity with RBC in the Indigenous Services division of Royal Trust. 

The work appealed to me as I saw a chance to assist these communities, post litigation, to ensure their hard fought settlements were protected for future generations, while also providing an income stream to assist today’s generation. I partner with a team of dedicated professionals focused exclusively on managing community trust funds for Indigenous communities. As the first trust company in Canada to recognize the need to have a dedicated team for these unique trust structures, we remain the industry leader when it comes to protecting and preserving Indigenous community trust assets. This is very rewarding work as we get to see communities grow and prosper as they look to a bright future. 

What would help employees understand our strategy and how RBC partners with Indigenous people?

Sturges: I often get asked why we focus on a culturally specific segment. First, there is a huge transfer of wealth occurring for Indigenous communities as land claims are being settled and compensation for breaches of treaty arrangements are being rectified. RBC is in a unique position to help Indigenous people manage this new wealth that’s flowing into their communities.

On a larger scale, the more important reason we do this is because we believe we have both the ability to influence and an obligation to bring about positive change. We’re going to do that in three ways. First, through the economy. Through the delivery of our financial services, which are banking, trusts and investments, we will help advance economic development for Indigenous nations. Second, we are organizing our work around people, which we view as creating access to employment and education. And third, we’re organizing our work around community, which is our social impact work in the areas of health, youth and the environment as examples, and making our supply chain inclusive for Indigenous businesses. So, economy, people and community are our three pillars of the strategy.

dale sturges with justin ferbey

Sturges (left) with Justin Ferbey, deputy minister, Economic Development and president & CEO of the Yukon Development Corporation. Sturges toured the Carcross settlement and lands with Justin to observe various economic development and infrastructure projects.

Jackson: When I think about a core driver of our strategy, I think of the importance of partnering with Indigenous communities to demonstrate our commitment to reconciliation in Canada. Relationship is paramount. And that is why the individuals at RBC who work in this space are deeply committed to, while simultaneously inspired by, the clients with whom we work. In order to deliver on this partnership, I see colleagues go the extra mile every single day. We understand that doing business with Indigenous communities rarely happens in a boardroom - it happens in a community hall, or at a Pow Wow, or around the table in chief and council chambers, or even in the bush - camping alongside Elders and learning traditional ways of knowing. If we want to be seen as true partners, we must make the effort to understand our clients and the things that matter most to them.

Sturges: I want to pick up on your comments about reconciliation because it fuels my commitment to this market. There is a movement in Canada rooted in recognizing that a terrible assault took place on Indigenous peoples and once there is recognition of this, and apologies made for it, the next step is to move into a period of action or “reconcili-action.” This is a very significant time for RBC as well as Canada generally. What it means for RBC is the work that we do, around economy, people and community, will inform our contribution towards reconciliation. We acknowledge and understand that not only do we have the ability to contribute to reconciliation, but that we also have an obligation to do so. Just based on our size and role in Canada, we are an organization that has a tremendous amount of influence and ability to influence change - and we wish to be a participant in reconciliation in a meaningful way.

What are you particularly proud of - recent accomplishments or developments that demonstrate RBC’s commitment in action?

Sturges: I’m most proud of our recent efforts to evolve our work from what we’ve historically focused on - which mostly included retail and commercial banking. We’re now taking a OneRBC approach and renamed the group the RBC Indigenous Financial Services Group to reflect services beyond banking, such as trusts and investments, and other initiatives from the enterprise that focus on employment, education and the community.

RBC signing something like the Declaration of Action with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an example of this renewed focus. It’s an important statement that RBC believes there are things we as an organization can and should do, beyond just day-to-day banking that can make a positive difference. I’m proud of this milestone. No other financial institution has done this and it speaks to our commitment to partner with Indigenous communities.

Jackson: Over the past five years, we’ve been supporting the National Aboriginal Trust Officers’ Association (NATOA) in the launch of phase two of their Trust Officer Accreditation program through Lethbridge College. The program is just about to launch! We are excited that these new materials will help to deliver robust learning resources to Indigenous community members who are working with their own community’s trust.

In the trust world, we go out of our way to visit communities to hold trustee workshops and meetings, to engage youth and Elders, and to ensure that our work is not simply a matter of us explaining what we have accomplished. We seek to engage with, and learn about, the unique and diverse First Nations we work with, while sharing our knowledge of the financial industry, because we believe these positive relationships lay the foundation to a mutually beneficial partnership.

rbc indigenous wealth team hosting clients in banff

Jackson and the Indigenous Wealth team host a number of clients in Banff National Park during the National Aboriginal Trust Officer's Association annual conference in May 2018.

If you could leave employees with one message, what would that be?

Sturges: I would love for all RBC employees to feel a sense of pride in working for an organization that is committed to making a difference and being an active participant in the reconciliation movement. And beyond that, I would love all RBC employees to recognize they have the opportunity to contribute and be participants as well - there is no small action, every contribution matters.

Jackson: Remember that no matter where you are in Canada, you are surrounded by Indigenous peoples, cultures, and histories. Remember that you are on Treaty Land, that cultural equality is of utmost importance and can be achieved in part through our efforts to learn about and understand First Nations.