Terry Copenace of Big Grassy First Nation remembers a cold, rainy, November day fishing with his father.
“He told me he didn’t want this for me when I grew up. He didn’t want me to have to live that way to support my family the same way he had to,” said Copenace. “That stayed with me.”
Copenace said he experienced lots of racism growing up. Most of the time in school, he was the only Indigenous person.
His mother, Lucy, would always tell him tomiigozhin — “try hard.”
“She would tell me that every day,” said Copenace.
His father, Fred, former Big Grassy Chief and residential school survivor worked as a fisherman, trapper, school bus driver, and storeowner. Copenace said his parents were always up early to support him and his siblings.
“They did everything they could to raise the family,” said Copenace.
Their work ethic set the standard for his prosperity.
“It was these things my parents would talk about — teaching me to work hard and find a new way of life,” said Copenace. “These things drove me.”
His parents’ example helped keep him devoted to school. In 2008, Copenace graduated Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree to pursue a career in banking.
“I’m not exactly sure how to say this,” said Copenace, as a smile lit up his face. “But I guess one thing that’s always interested me is money. I feel like people don’t like to talk about money.”
He said that how much people make, or how much things cost are subjects commonly avoided. Not for him.
“I’ve always wanted to find out more about it, and become better at it,” he said. “I’ve seen how much stress money can cause families.”
Copenace started his new job as Fort Frances TD’s new branch manager Monday.
“I want to be able to help Northwestern Ontario with my skills and see how we can strengthen the region financially,” he said.
Big Grassy is receiving a $2,500 donation from TD Canada Trust to help fund the Pegamigaabo School library.
While serving elsewhere as a commercial accounts manager, Copenace was able to help communities, but this new role will help fulfill a deeper urge of his.
“An inner desire of mine is to help people individually. And I think that’s why this job appeals to me too, because it’s dealing a lot more with the personal side of banking,” he said. “What it really comes down to is helping people in their lives financially.”
He said that helping others financially is very important to him.
“It’s helped me, and I’ve seen that it’s helped others when they get a handle on their finances and are able to pursue dreams,” he said.
Copenace’s field is one that he said very few of his people enter.
After Copenace graduated from Lakehead, he spent five years at RBC. He wanted to explore jobs outside of banking, and gain experience in other roles. So following that, he worked for Esquimalt Nation in British Columbia.
Besides that, he served as Governance Development Network’s executive director, helping organize conferences for Ontario First Nations communities.
He also worked as a finance officer and an education counsellor.
Following his stint away from banking, Thunder Bay RBC recruited him back, but this time in a different position. Things opened up for him to serve as a commercial account manager for Indigenous markets.
“They always knew I was interested in that role,” said Copenace.
He had told them before he left that this was something he wanted to do.
While working there, Copenace’s wife, Jana-Rae Yerxa, got a job at SGEI where she was required to be in person. Thankfully, Copenace could work from home, so the couple moved to Fort Frances where they’ve been since last summer.
Then, recently, TD came calling, and Copenace accepted their offer.
“It just seemed like a good fit,” said Copenace. “I was ready for a change — ready to move on to something with more responsibility and to challenge myself in a new journey.”
He said he likes being back in his home territory.
“Just running into people I know at Walmart feels so good,” said Copenace.
When not banking, you can find him fishing, hunting, or attending pow-wows.