The Corporate Archives curates physical and digital exhibits from our collections to tell BMO’s story over the years. Our aim is to provide a better understanding of the defining moments in our history.
BMO’s Indigenous Partnerships and Progress – Our History and Impact
BMO is committed to progress for Indigenous peoples across three pillars that reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action for corporate Canada: education, employment, and economic empowerment. We work with a spirit of partnership and co-operation to provide financial solutions, educational scholarships, and employment opportunities for Indigenous communities across Canada. At BMO, the Indigenous Banking Unit (IBU) is responsible for the management of financial programs and services for Indigenous communities nationwide, and the Indigenous Equity and Inclusion team is accountable for the education and employment initiatives. Together, our teams work in collaboration and partnership to deliver against the three pillars of our commitments. Learn more about our history with Indigenous communities in this exhibit.
A note on wording: Historically, the Indigenous Banking Unit was known as the Aboriginal Banking Unit, and some documents and artefacts are printed with this wording. We acknowledge that Indigenous people in different parts of the world may identify with other terms.
Announcement of a new banking unit
In May 1992, BMO announced it would be serving the Indigenous community with a unit dedicated to Indigenous customers. The unit was meant to bring more effective and responsive banking services to the underserved communities to help them make real financial progress. Initiatives involved the appointment of a Vice-President of Indigenous Banking, as well as the establishment of a Steering Committee on the Advancement of Indigenous Employment.
Image: BMO banking forms in Cree syllabics, c. 1990s.
Ron Jamieson appointed head of the unit
When the Indigenous Banking Unit was first set up, BMO named Ron Jamieson, a Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, as its head. Mr. Jamieson was the first Indigenous person to be appointed to an executive position in a major chartered bank. He held the position for 13 years and contributed to many initiatives by the bank to further the interests and needs of Indigenous customers as well as employees. Mr. Jamieson was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2014.
Image: Photograph of Clarence Louie CM OBC, chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia’s Okanagan (left), standing with Ron Jamieson, former Head of Indigenous Banking, BMO.
First BMO branch located on a reserve
In the summer of 1993, Peace Tree Trade Centre branch was opened for business. This enabled BMO to bring its services directly to the people of Akwesasne Mohawk Territory.
Image: Economic Empowerment Pillar Artwork. This graphic artwork was created for the 2021 Wîcihitowin ᐑᒋᐦᐃᑐᐏᐣ Indigenous Report by Mariah Meawasige, an Anishinaabe graphic artist. The illustration signifies the creation of a space where empowerment is possible.
An $87.6 million deal is signed
With a mandate to develop businesses in the Western Arctic, in 1993 the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation negotiated the largest business transaction by an Indigenous group at that time.
BMO, together with the corporation, agreed to a financing package of $87.6 million to be invested through the Aboriginal Global Investment Corporation (AGIC), an Inuvialuit-owned company.
Image: Photograph of BMO Chairman Matthew Barrett visiting Inuvik, home to the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, c. 1990s.
Presentation of a special belt
When BMO opened a branch in Waskaganish in 1994, a member of the community created a belt to mark the occasion. This belt was presented to Gilles Jarry (Senior Vice-President, Quebec Division) by Grand Chief Billy Diamond at the opening ceremony of the branch. Recently, the Corporate Archives had the belt conserved and it is now on display in the Waskaganish branch.
Image: Waskaganish Belt, 1994.
BMO’s first on-reserve housing loans program
In 1995, in response to limitations imposed by the Indian Act, BMO developed an innovative financing solution that supported much-needed housing in Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, Ontario. The bank was able to start offering home loans to individual First Nation members, a first anywhere in Canada. The response was overwhelming – even before the program was officially announced, the Peace Tree branch received 100 applications.
On-Reserve Home renovations program
In 2003, The Indigenous Banking unit launched an innovative home buying and renovation financing alternative for members of Indigenous communities. While programs of this type had been set up prior to this date, the 2003 launch made the BMO On-Reserve Housing Loan program national in scope. The programs provided access to personal loans to purchase or upgrade owner-occupied, single-family homes located in Indigenous communities.
This was a response by BMO to increase access to capital for housing and help drive progress for a more inclusive society. The On-Reserve Housing Loan Program was designed to provide an offering that did not require ministerial government guarantees.
Image: Brochure from the program, c. 2016.
Ron Jamieson Scholarship
In recognition of the contributions of BMO’s former Head of Aboriginal Banking, BMO created the Ron Jamieson Scholarship in 2008 to support talented Indigenous youth across Canada. This scholarship was created in partnership with the Foundation for the Advancement of Aboriginal Youth (FAAY) of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.
Image: Photograph of Doug Bourque (Director, Indigenous Banking) presenting a BMO Indigenous Scholarship to, Monica Wysotski, a student from Vancouver Island University (Nanaimo), 2006.
Relationship with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
In 2010, at the 8th Annual Gala Dinner, BMO Financial Group was presented with a Gold Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Award by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), for its efforts to enhance partnerships with Canada’s First Peoples. The CCAB has recognized BMO with six consecutive three-year Gold level PAR certifications for our approach since inception.
Image: Photograph of PAR Award, 2010.
Launch of the Sharing Circle
The Sharing Circle, introduced in 2016, is an Employee Resource Group for Indigenous employees and allies to grow a culture of cultural awareness, belonging and inclusion.
Wîcihitowin ᐑᒋᐦᐃᑐᐏᐣ, a Nehiyawewin/Cree term meaning “helping and supporting each other” is the title for the Indigenous Partnerships and Progress Report published annually by BMO as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It outlines the ways BMO has been working to support the Indigenous community in Canada through our three pillars: education, employment, and economic empowerment. The first edition was launched in 2021.
Image: Photograph of Ron Quintal, President of Fort McKay Métis Nation, with his son, Riel. This was the cover of Wîcihitowin ᐑᒋᐦᐃᑐᐏᐣ 2022.
BMO is proud to serve customers at its 13 Indigenous branches across Canada. Some of these BMO branches have been architecturally designed to reflect the communities in which they are located. For example, when the Nunavut branch was opened in 1995, it was built on piles to make sure the permafrost would not affect the building. The community was also taken into consideration when BMO built space into the edifice to incorporate a Canada Post office for ease of access. Additionally, staff quarters were included in the design, to ensure that business didn’t stop and the community cease being served because of bad weather.
Image: Photograph of Tsahaheh branch, c. 2010s.
Miikana Career Pathways Program
Launched to support development, career advancement and retention of Indigenous employees, the Miikana program is directly related to BMO’s three pillars to achieve Indigenous inclusion.
Indigenous Advisory Council
Formed in January 2020, BMO’s Indigenous Advisory Council includes leaders from 12 Indigenous communities across Canada representing First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Its mandate is to help BMO develop policies and practices across the three strategic pillars: education, employment and economic empowerment, that responds to Call to Action 92 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Since the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was established in 2021, BMO has recognized it as a day for its employees to reflect and deepen their understanding of Indigenous culture and communities.
Image: Photograph from the “We Were Children – Shiiakwaksha’okon:’a” moccasin/vamp installation at the Akwesasne branch, 2021.
Native-Owned Business Program
In October 2022, BMO for Native-owned Businesses was launched in the U.S. as part of a five-year, $5 billion BMO EMpower initiative. The initiative supports inclusive economic recovery through lending, investing, giving and engagement in local and minority communities.
Through BMO for Native-owned Businesses the bank invests in small business lending to expand resources for Native American business owners, in addition to women, Black, and Latinx business owners. BMO for Native-owned Businesses offers greater access to working capital, meaningful networking opportunities, educational tools and resources to start up, scale up and grow.
Image: Advertisement for the Native-owned business program, 2022.
Together with First Nations University of Canada and 4 Seasons of Reconciliation, BMO developed a new eLearning course, Nisitohtamowin ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᒧᐃᐧᐣ (Understanding Indigenous Perspectives in Canada). The course draws on insights from Indigenous and non-Indigenous BMO colleagues. This course is offered free to Canadians until September 2025. It introduces participants to the fundamentals of Indigenous history: the diversity of Indigenous peoples, treaties and nation-to-nation agreements, residential schools, the Indian Act and the ongoing struggle for economic and social justice.