The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation aims to remember the tragic stories of residential schools and to honour the children who were victims and survivors, as well as their families and communities. It's also an opportunity to share the stories of inspiring people with Indigenous backgrounds. Meet 2 Indigenous women whose journeys at Desjardins have been exactly that.
Sonia Lefebvre and Mandie Montour have a lot in common. They both began their careers, spanning over 30 years, as tellers at Desjardins before rising through the ranks to become general managers of their respective caisses in Wendake and in Kahnawake. They have also witnessed first-hand the economic, social, and cultural development of these First Nations communities and played a key part in supporting it.
Economic and social vitality
Entrepreneurial spirit is at the core of development in these communities. "It's in our DNA!" says Sonia Lefebvre. "The Huron-Wendat Nation has always been recognized as a place where businesses thrive. The people of Wendake are proud of creating projects that help them to be as self-sufficient as possible."
This energy also resonates with Mandie Montour: "We've grown so much over the years. When I look around our streets, I can see all the development that has been steadily increasing in recent years."
They've helped hundreds of businesses over the years, alongside the Huron Wendat Nation Council of Wendake and Tewatohnhi'saktha, Kahnawake's Economic Development Commission. "Our community values and those of Desjardins align," says Mandie. "Together, we support the development of projects and initiatives that promote the economic and social vitality of our community."
On top of providing financial assistance to businesses, Mandie also mentions supporting many Kahnawake residents who have received mortgage loans to become homeowners. "The caisse was founded to make sure we retain and redistribute wealth within our community so it can grow," she says.
Keeping language and culture alive
It's also clear people want to return to their roots in Wendake. "There's a housing shortage and a long wait-list for people who want to come back to live in the community," says Sonia, who's about to retire from the Wendake caisse. The caisse's board of directors is made up entirely of community members or those that have a family link to the community and has an equal number of men and women.
Keeping the culture and language alive is also a major challenge for the Wendake and Kahnawake communities, as it is for many others across Canada. "The Wendat language was gone, but since 2010, there is training available to community members and young people who want to learn our language and culture," says Sonia joyfully. Mandie echoes Sonia's sentiments. "There's a desire to know our nation's language and culture," she says, adding that using the Community Development Fund, her caisse hands out scholarships—even to adults who want to learn the language and teach it.
She also sees a renewed interest for arts and crafts in the community, especially jewellery making. Using an idea suggested by an employee a few years ago, the Kahnawake caisse is now designing a calendar featuring the work of local artists, and demand extends beyond Canada's borders.
Both communities want to continue building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Hosting a powwow, which Desjardins supports in several communities, is one such moment of solidarity where everyone is invited to experience and share in the culture and traditions of First Nations communities. A record number of people attended the return of these celebratory gatherings in 2022.
"You have to hear the drums and songs! Their power has a healing and spiritual effect. It's unifying and welcoming, without language barriers," says Mandie, who volunteers with her team at the Kahnawake Pow Wow. The gatherings started in 1991 in a spirit of healing and reconciliation after the Oka crisis, which had shaken Quebec.
Want to learn more?
Check out these resources to learn more about Indigenous Peoples and communities:
- Listen to music on the Radio-Canada OHdio Autochtones platform (radio-canada.ca)
- Read about the residential school system
- Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (Full report)