“When our community went on lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a lot of people had concerns about how to pay bills or deposit cheques,” says Tracy Menge, Director of Community Economic Development of Cape Breton’s Eskasoni First Nation. “BMO helped us in an unsure time.”
In March 2020, just two months after thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people eligible for compensation in the landmark Federal Indian Day School Class Action were able to begin submitting claims, the COVID-19 crisis hit. Several reserves – including Eskasoni – went on lockdown, leaving many people unable to deposit their settlement cheques.
With more than 4,000 residents, Eskasoni is Atlantic Canada’s most populous reserve and the world’s largest Mi’kmaq community. They knew they would need outside support to get settlements deposited during the crisis – and since no one knew how long lockdown would be, Tracy wanted to work with someone she could rely on. That’s when she reached out to BMO.
Finding solutions together
BMO Senior Relationship Manager Andrew Giggey, who works with several local First Nations, was quickly brought in to help. “Over the past five years, I’ve worked closely with Indigenous communities across the island. We’ve built trust, respect, and strong relationships,” says Andrew. “It means a lot to be there for people at a time like this.”
Tracy asked if BMO could help Eskasoni residents open bank accounts and deposit cheques during lockdown. Andrew took action right away, meeting with Branch Manager Arlene Butts and colleagues from several BMO teams to create a plan. “I have to tip my hat to everyone who worked on this; they stepped up to deliver crucial services during a pandemic,” says Andrew.
With more than 30 years at BMO, Arlene drew on her experience – and that of her colleagues – to find a solution. “I knew we needed something simple,” she says. “So we adapted quickly and figured out an efficient plan. I think Tracy felt confident in us because she’s seen that it’s not just a one-man show over here – it’s everyone pulling together.”
Eskasoni Nation is a BMO client, and we already have an ATM on the reserve, which facilitated the process. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the community, so opening an account with us made lot of sense,” says Arlene, pointing out that BMO also has many personal and commercial banking relationships within the First Nation.
To kick things off, Tracy sent an email blast to the Eskasoni community to determine if people were interested in opening an account. She then collected the necessary information and passed it on to BMO, along with photos for ID. Accounts and bank cards were set up at the BMO branch in Sydney. Next, small teams of BMO staff – including Ashley Snow, Personal Banking Associate, and Terri-Lynn Baxter, Assistant Branch Manager – travelled to the First Nation to meet with new account holders. Strict COVID-19 protocols were followed.
“We were received so warmly, and everything ran smoothly,” says Arlene. “We had a team that met with community members. We had a BMO rep at the ATM to help people change PIN numbers, make deposits and more. And we had a team on standby at the Sydney branch, since we knew bankers might call in needing additional support.”
Over the course of three sessions, BMO helped open 105 new bank accounts – and so far, more than a dozen community members have received their settlement cheques and deposited them.
A leader in Indigenous Banking
BMO is the leading provider of financial services to Indigenous communities in Canada. We work with more than 250 communities across the country, supporting self-sufficiency, economic development and prosperity.
“This work is by far the most rewarding segment of my portfolio. On Cape Breton Island, BMO has supported housing, education, health care, entertainment, fishing, a court house, and many other infrastructure or revenue-producing projects,” says Andrew of his work with Indigenous communities. “We build communities together.”
Eskasoni First Nation remained free of COVID-19 through May, and lockdown has ended. The community is now looking ahead to what comes next. And they’ve already started making plans with BMO to run information sessions on topics like banking and mortgage lending.
“The BMO staff that came to our community were incredible to work with and very helpful,” says Tracy. “It’s so important to have great partners to assist our community during a difficult time.”
During these unprecedented times, BMO is living its Purpose to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life, and going above and beyond to help those who are being affected by COVID-19. Learn more about how employees are reaching out to their communities.