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RBC has long been committed to supporting Indigenous prosperity. More than 30 years ago, RBC opened the first financial institution on a First Nations reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario. RBC staff and community members celebrated the branch's 30th anniversary and all they've accomplished together.

In 1991, RBC was the first major financial institution in Canada to open a full-service branch on a reserve in Ohsweken – a rural community located within the Six Nations of the Grand River. The only First Nation community that includes all six Haudenosaunee nations, the Six Nations of the Grand River is located in Southwestern Ontario and home to over 17,000 individuals, making it the most populated First Nation in Canada.

Harry Willmot, RBC’s Regional VP Indigenous Markets East was at the branch opening in 1991 and explains the rationale for the ground-breaking branch. “It used to be that people would get their paycheque but couldn’t cash it within their community. They would have to go to the closest town – in some cases, they might have to fly out of the community to cash their cheque. The result was that money was never spent in the community – people would buy their groceries elsewhere, for example. By having a financial institution within the community, money starts to circulate, and wealth begins to generate. Restaurants and businesses start to emerge.”

Recently, RBC spoke with Michelle Bomberry, an elected councillor of Six Nations to understand the relationship between RBC and the community over the last 30 years, and what the presence of the branch has meant to the Six Nations families.

In her role, Councillor Bomberry is dedicated to supporting community wellness, “which includes providing community members with opportunities – and having a financial institution on the territory allows for families to be provided options,” she explains. Having been engaged with the community for the last twenty years, not only as a councillor but also as a volunteer, Bomberry sees first-hand where change needs to happen.

She has been pleased to see young people learning about financial literacy, individuals learning about investments and suggested that RBC’s presence has made an impact in the community. “RBC has provided mortgages for community members, enabling them to build or purchase homes. That opens doors for people – people gain confidence and strive for other goals,” she says. “Also, individuals have the opportunity to obtain a personal loan, or invest – those opportunities weren’t here before.”

RBC has also provided employment, both directly and indirectly. “RBC has hired from the community and many have moved on to bigger roles and responsibilities within the bank,” explains Willmot. Furthermore, when a new business can open because of a loan provided, that business can employ people from the community. “Whenever there’s a new entity in the community, we can build skills and capacity in our own people,” says Councillor Bomberry.

But she explains, there is always more that can be done, and people within the community struggle with food security – an issue that has been amplified with the onset of COVID-19.

At the 30th anniversary celebration in August, a $5,000 donation was gifted to the Six Nations Community Food Bank in honour of the partnership between the Six Nations community and RBC, and to assist those people who need immediate support. What’s more, local RBC staff from across Hamilton, Brantford and Norfolk communities rallied together to collect hundreds of pounds of food to donate along with the financial gift.

“We are honoured to have a long and rich history within the Six Nations community,” said Claude DeMone, Regional President, Southwestern Ontario at RBC. “Through an inclusive and collaborative approach to how we do business, uplifting the community and an unwavering commitment to supporting Indigenous prosperity, we hope to continue making a meaningful contribution to the Ohsweken community for many more years to come.”

The Six Nations Community Food Bank: A Critical Part of Ohsweken

Founded in 1989, the Six Nations Community Food Bank was run out of a temporary location for thirty years, before a permanent home was built in 2019. The food bank plays an essential role in the community – one that is growing in importance.

“When the new food bank building was built in 2019, we were servicing approximately 120 family members per week,” explains Mary Monture, the food bank’s current Chair of Board of Directors.

Today, the food bank is servicing approximately 600 family members per week – an increase that Mary attributes largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The jump in demand began right around COVID. When the pandemic first started, people weren’t going out of the community to get food. No one was travelling, people were working from home, or were laid off. All of this led to a big increase in numbers,” she says.

This significant rise in demand comes at a time when there isn’t the opportunity to leverage standard fundraising efforts such as golf tournaments, and the foodbank’s very popular euchre tournament. The $5,000 donation, therefore, came at a critical point, but longer-term solutions are essential. Mary is hopeful of a return to fundraising soon, and sustainable support for the foodbank and the families it serves.

The opening of the RBC branch in Ohsweken was a milestone 30 years ago and since then, it has been supporting the members of this community to reach their financial goals – from owning a home, starting a business, investing for the future and educating the youth on financial literacy fundamentals. “Even though RBC is a large corporation, they are on the ground with grassroots initiatives that support our people,” says Councillor Bomberry, who is grateful for the partnership between the bank and her community and the long-term commitment to its growth, financial literacy and future prosperity.