Synopsis: After noticing that teachers working on the Onion Lake Cree Nation weren’t receiving the same benefits that teachers in non-Indigenous communities were, a local leader saw an opportunity to provide financial services for his community — and communities across the country. He created the financial services co-operative, Many Nations.
Onion Lake Cree Nation straddles the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta, about 50 km north of Lloydminster. Surrounded by fertile farmland and active oil and gas fields, the First Nation has prioritized economic opportunities for its members. But this hasn’t always been easy.
In the mid-90s, its Director of Education, Joe Carter, noticed that financial needs of the First Nation weren’t being met in the same way as their non-Indigenous counterparts. Specifically, the director noticed that teachers in his community didn’t have access to the same services that teachers off-Nation did.
Wanting to provide benefits for the community’s teachers and other workers that were comparable to others, Carter looked for services that could meet the specific needs of people on First Nations. Finding none, he saw an opportunity. With a strength-in-numbers approach, he knew that Onion Lake and other First Nations could acquire the services they were looking for. So, in 1995, he created Many Nations Financial Services.
Starting as a non-profit organization, Many Nations soon swelled from representing Onion Lake First Nation to more than 150 other communities across Canada. Before long it expanded its original scope and began to offer financial and group/employee benefit services to First Nations-owned businesses, governments, and organizations.
Though the business didn’t start a co-operative, it was Carter’s vision that it should operate as one. And while it took some time, Many Nations did reorganize to a co-operative structure in 2009 and continues to reap the benefits to this day.
As a co-op, Many Nations is owned by its members — in this case its clients — and the organization prides itself on being responsive to the needs of these shareholders. With client feedback centred in the organization’s structure, Many Nations can flexibly adapt and change to suit the needs of its members. What’s more, the client-driven board and management style contributes to a transparency with its members that other insurance brokers might not have.
Many Nations has enjoyed profitability, and in 2011 began distributing patronage rebates for its members.