Sask Polytech May 2020
Life

The Last Page: Shaun Soonias, Director of Indigenous Relations at Farm Credit Canada

On the last page of every issue of Industry West, we find a Saskatchewan business person or leader to answer our version of the Proust Questionnaire. Marcel Proust made the questionnaire famous, believing that 35 specific questions could reveal a person’s true nature. We grabbed this idea—you’ve probably seen it in Vanity Fair—and made our own version. The first five questions are ours, and then we ask our subject to pick their favourite Proust questions to answer.

Say hello to Shaun Soonias, director of Indigenous Relations at Farm Credit Canada.

    1. Where are you from? “I am from Red Pheasant Cree Nation west of Battleford. In Treaty 6 territory. I call Saskatoon home.”
    2. Where did you attend school and what did you study? “I attended the University of Saskatchewan College of Arts and Science and graduated with a BA in Sociology.”
    3. What is your career history? “I have worked professionally in Saskatchewan my entire career. My focus has always been to work with and for Saskatchewan’s Indigenous citizens. I began my career with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in 1993, running their summer science camp program moving into education and community-based justice programs. I left in 2000 and managed the University of Saskatchewan’s Representative Workforce Strategy Program. In 2001, I became an advocate with the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth. After 11 years I returned to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in 2012, I assumed the Director of Social Development position where I worked on child welfare and other social development priorities. In 2015, I switched my focus from social development to economic development and took the role of Director, Aboriginal Employment and Economic Development with the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority. In 2016, I moved to the Executive Director role with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Economic Development Network. In 2019 I moved to Farm Credit Canada as the Director of Indigenous Relations.”
    4. What’s the best piece of business or career advice you have or have been given? “The first and likely best piece of career advice I received was from my grandfather. When I was 12, I started work at his store and confectionary at Aquadeo Beach. There was no running water so one of my duties was to fill water jugs for the restaurant. The water tank was surrounded by beautiful flowers with the corresponding bees to go along with them. I was not a fan of bees and told him that I couldn’t fill the jugs. My grandfather told me (in much coarser language) that if that was the case I was fired. I learned that day that no matter where you work, for who, and whatever you are doing, that you have to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. I think that after a few fills I had overcome my discomfort with black and yellow bugs. Thirty-five years later I still think of that story when I have to start something that feels out of my comfort zone.”
    5. What’s your favorite thing about Saskatchewan? “We have a beautiful province with so much diversity in the land and people. I have been fortunate to see all our fine province from Black Lake to Coronach and encourage people to spend some time and money to explore the wonderful places and people we have right here at home. We have four great and distinct seasons and a lot of things to do year-round.”
    6. What is your greatest fear? “That Canada will not reconcile with Indigenous peoples in ways or a timeline that makes a real difference to anyone involved. One thing COVID revealed was that governments can and will do what is needed when a national response of required, even under a minority government. I see reconciliation as a priority in Canada and hope that we can move forward as a nation. I approach my role at FCC with reconciliation as the main driver and I know that many other governments, businesses, institutions, and people are similarly passionate and focused on reconciliation. I remain optimistic that our grandchildren’s Canada will look and feel much more inclusive than the one we have grown up in.”
    7. What is your greatest extravagance? “Working in an office environment, I have gathered a lot of dress shoes, watches and colognes, many of which have been sitting idle, patiently waiting to be shown off when the world returns to a more normal with the easing of COVID restrictions.”
    8. What do you consider your greatest achievement? “Statistics Canada comes out with their annual socio-economic data comparing earnings and education among many things. I often joke with my First Nations friends that we are the top 1 per cent. We are at the top in earnings, home ownership, education, and all the other data points, even when compared to non-Indigenous people. But this fact is indeed sad, as so many in my community are at the bottom of these statistics. I would say that as the first generation of children in my family not to have to attend residential school, my greatest achievement is being able to show my community that we can occupy leadership positions and make a difference for our Indigenous community and non-Indigenous alike.”
    9. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? “When I was a young boy, my nickname was “Bud the Dog” as I very much wanted to be a dog. I ate and drank out of bowls and relatives always had some treats to throw me. I would say that if I had a choice, I would come back as a dog. I love dogs!”
    10. What is your motto? “I have a couple of mottos that I use frequently as it relates to Indigenous economic development. As our Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs develop and grow their businesses, I encourage them to “play leapfrog, not catch up” when it comes to adopting technology, entering emerging markets and exploring new opportunities. In agriculture, I often state that our First Nations must move from land lessors to leaders in agriculture. I firmly believe that revitalizing Indigenous agricultural offers the greatest potential for our communities to re-establish our food sovereignty and economic development.”