As representatives of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) walked up the stairs of the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) on Wednesday afternoon, they were greeted by a huge billboard that read “Welcome Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.”
“For the longest time in our history, no one thought about doing business with First Nations. We were left on the sidelines. We were always in a kind of poor economic state,” said MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who was at the TSX this week to ring the bell, a ceremonial action signifying the end of a day’s trading.
The event came about to help promote the Kahnawake Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), an investment fund announced in August of last year that will see $32 million allocated to various investment portfolios. The funds came from the sale of MCK’s shares in tech company Continent 8 in 2016 and are part of Council’s ultimate goal to ensure financial independence for Kahnawake.
No dividends from the fund are to be accessed for 10 years, to allow the fund to grow. Once dividends are accessed, funds will be put directly back into the community, Sky-Deer said.
“We always talk about seven generations thinking. Our community is always trying to fundraise for different things that we need, and I’m tired of it. I think our community deserves more, our children deserve more,” Sky-Deer said. “We don’t want to be reliant on government funding. We need our own nest egg, a war chest of money, to be able to access when we need it for the things we need it for.”
Participating in the bell ringing at the stock exchange is a way for the SWF to get its name out there, which is important to ensure its growth, said Branden Morris, investment manager at MCK.
“It’s an opportunity to get more exposure for the fund, increasing visibility, which will hopefully result in more deal flow,” Morris said. “If people know we exist, they get to pitch us their ideas, their business ventures, whatever it may be.”
Morris said that the fund will give the community flexibility to invest in areas that are most in need.
“We have a 10-year lockup on the gains from the (SWF), so it can be discussed at that time whatever it may be, language or culture, or infrastructure, whatever the community needs are at that time,” he said.
MCK grand chief Sky-Deer acknowledged that some community members have been wary of the SWF, but said she feels it’s important that Kahnawake adapts to ensure that the community can gain and maintain financial independence.
“There’s been a lot of change in the last 20 years, and I think that’s a testament to our people that we’ve been able to adapt. The world is changing very drastically and very rapidly, and we need to keep up,” she said. “Sometimes people are hard to trust. But we need to take advantage of this opportunity now.”
She said that the SWF has a dedicated team of individuals ensuring the success of the fund and protection of Kahnawake throughout.
“The attitudes towards First Nations right now are favourable, and people want to try and make changes, so we’re being cautiously optimistic,” she said. “The only way we’re going to know if these partnerships are real and genuine is based on the experiences that we’re having in the negotiations and discussions and the way things are moving and evolving.… There’s a lot of eyes and ears on everything that we’re doing.”
Information about the fund and its ongoing activities can be found through contacting the SWF team at MCK directly.