In his 22 years working for the Ulnooweg Development Group, Christopher Googoo has helped entrepreneurs and businesses from the Indigenous community across Atlantic Canada tap into support services, business tools, and millions of dollars in funding.
Googoo is a member of the We’koqma’q First Nation and lives in Millbrook, N.S., with his wife and three children.
Founded in 1986, the Ulnooweg Development Group is a non-profit that has provided more than $71 million in loans to entrepreneurs from the Indigenous community over the past 36 years, and has since branched out to include two other foundations.
In 2013, the Ulnooweg Education Centre was founded to provide Indigenous-based learning, educational initiatives and STEM programming in areas such as artificial intelligence, animation, 3D modelling, data and web development.
"We went into the area of innovation and started building relationships with allies across the region, sitting on boards and committees to influence how to view participation from the Indigenous community and increase it within these sectors," said Googoo.
The Ulnooweg Indigenous Communities Foundation was established in 2018 to act as a portal for donating to Indigenous communities and to help communities access donations, investments and grants.
"Just like access to capital in the finance world, only about 1% of money in the philanthropic community goes to Indigenous-led organizations," Googoo said. "We started building bridges and infrastructure in our communities where we set them up as qualified to receive donations, so they're able to receive philanthropic dollars."
Supporting health and education for young people is especially important for Googoo. Since 2016, he has organized the Ulnooweg Summer Solstice Run, which takes place on or around June 21 to mark the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year and National Indigenous Peoples Day. The popular run draws people of all ages from Millbrook for a 10K run, 5K walk/run and 2K kids run and includes a medal ceremony and breakfast social.
"I always look for ways to bring communities together, to convene our community and non-Indigenous communities, and this was a way to promote a healthy lifestyle and have fun," said Googoo.
Saying thanks for investing in the community
With so many initiatives on the go, it's hard not to notice Googoo's hard work. That's why Tina Murphy, Manager, Community Banking & External Events at TD, nominated Googoo to be recognized as part of the 2022 TD Thanks You campaign, which rewards TD customers and colleagues who are making a difference in their communities and bringing people together, without asking for anything in return.
Last year, Googoo helped complete the purchase of Windhorse Farm, a 200-acre property in Wentzells Lake, N.S., dedicated to conservation and ecology. Since 1840, the property was owned by just two different families. In December 2021, Windhorse Farm was returned to the Mi'kmaq via part sale, part gift from the previous owners, and is now owned and operated by the Ulnooweg Education Centre.
To thank Googoo for his commitment and service to his community, TD gifted him $5,000 to support the Ulnooweg Education Centre's operations at Windhorse Farm and to commission a bench dedicated to his late father, Raymond. Googoo was presented with his award at Windhorse Farm under a maple tree called Mother Maple, said to be several hundred years old.
"My wife, Melody, communicated with my family to come to this event and that it would be special. So, my sisters and mothers came down, and it was nice for them to be part of that," said Googoo.
With a busy life as a husband, father and business leader, Googoo has a lot of people who depend on him. Googoo views his work as the lens of building networks, whether it's through business, education, philanthropy or simply a weekend run where the local community can connect.
"I sit on a lot of boards that are not Indigenous, and the purpose is to build those networks so they can see what our values are, sharing our ways of knowing and influence the way people treat each other with dignity," said Googoo.
TD Thanks You, Christopher.