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A greater goal for English River: Engaging Indigenous talent through relationships

Kris Reynolds says the best kind of recruitment isn’t about selling people on the job or the company. She recruits Indigenous talent through her deep relationships with community members – not just the candidates, but their parents and other family members. 

“When I’m back home, hanging out, I see who wants to talk,” says Kris. “It’s really just about being part of the community and letting people know you’re there. I’m lucky that people come to me for advice or guidance just naturally.”

“Indigenous peoples rely on conversations with each other,” says Kris. “Dene people are so willing to share information. It’s at the heart of who they are – to gather and pass on knowledge.”

It’s a unique and successful approach for Kris, HR Advisor with Des Nedhe Group, who has been with the company – the economic development arm of English River First Nation – for 20 years. When people do decide they want to work for one of Des Nedhe Group’s companies, one of the big advantages as an employer is the family atmosphere, where people know and care about you personally and professionally. To know that they belong, and that they have the comfort of knowing that other people they work with are going to back them up. 

“You bring expertise and greatness to the table, and when you get here, I want you to feel like you are a part of the greater good – a greater goal for English River,” says Kris. “It’s about the folks from here and moving forward.”

It’s definitely not just work that brings Kris back to English River First Nation. She grew up in the city, so going to the reserve was exciting and something to look forward to. “Going fishing, getting in a boat – those were these cool things,” says Kris. “As a kid, I would go to Auntie Matilda’s house – she had a wringer washer and that was the most amazing thing ever!” Now, with English River First Nation’s 146 acres of reserve land outside of Saskatoon, Kris says that Des Nedhe Group can give employees a sense of community even though it’s in an urban setting – complete with the family, sense of belonging, and camaraderie that you would expect at home in Patuanak. 

“It means that you can still go out to Saskatoon and you can still be connected and supported like you would be back home,” says Kris. 

Des Nedhe Group’s diversification strategy, which has seen the company invest in a variety of different sectors, has meant the recruitment strategy has also changed.

“If you talked to me 20 years ago, I would have been focused on recruiting for construction,” says Kris. “Today, I have the pleasure of talking about retail, construction, professional services … all of these new initiatives that has changed the face of Des Nedhe.”

“We’ve pushed the boundaries and stretched ourselves,” says Kris. She has seen how these different aspects of Des Nedhe Group’s business has attracted talent from not just English River First Nation, but all across Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Because Des Nedhe Group’s companies are owned by the membership, everyone collectively works for English River, and for the betterment of English River.

How experiences of elders shape recruiting 

Sometimes the person people turn to for advice needs guidance herself. Kris says she’s incredibly lucky that her mother, Margaret Reynolds, is an elder and that she has aunties and uncles who she can talk to. 

“For as long as I can remember, my mother told me to stay humble, be respectful and encourage people even when you need some encouragement yourself,” says Kris. 

Margaret is a residential school survivor who participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where she told her entire story. She went into the field of child protection as a social worker, and taught her language, Denesuline, at First Nations University of Canada. (You can watch Margaret teach a Dene language course here.)

“We knew she went and we knew what she told us, but we didn’t know the depth of the story,” says Kris. “I talk about her experience a great deal now because she is the reason I am who I am. I wouldn’t be where I am or doing the things I’m doing without her.”

“She’s a huge influence and continues to be,” says Kris.

Kris’ approach to recruitment, training and development is also shaped by her Dene culture – to share opportunities, like with other Indigenous communities. And to lift up young people. 

“We walk side by side with you to help you reach your potential,” says Kris. But she does have some advice for employees and job seekers: “Stay open. Don’t corner yourself into a place where you’re shutting yourself off from the community.” 

“Stay true to your values and what you come from.”