As a business owner and entrepreneur, Jason Thompson has already made his mark on Northern Ontario.
After gaining a foothold in the crowded project management field with his Indigenous-owned company, Superior Strategies, Thompson branched out into the office supply industry, marketing and distributing PPE and workwear under the Warrior brand.
Now he plans to publicly unveil a new company. His latest venture is an engineering procurement construction management contractor (EPCM) that’s expected to compete with some of the biggest players in Northern Ontario.
That will bring his stable of companies to six with a total workforce of 40 employees.
Thompson said he has no plans on slowing down.
“This new initiative is going to be game-changing,” Thompson said from his head office in Thunder Bay. “It's going to hold people's feet to the fire, and we’ve got a plan around inclusion and reconciliation that's very progressive.”
Superior Strategies has partnered with some recognizable names as Northern Ontario looks to capitalize on a mining boom and major transmission line projects.
Details on his new company are expected to be made public in a few weeks, Thompson said. But that’s not keeping him from already touting the positive effects it will have on remote communities in the region.
“We're coming at it from an Indigenous perspective to ensure that we're looking after the interests of the communities and the community partners."
Inclusion is at the heart of his plans for the future. As a member of Red Rock Indian Band on the north shore of Lake Superior, Thompson said his heritage — the stories, the teachings, the way of life — is present in just about every aspect of his daily work.
“We want partners to maximize their opportunities with Indigenous communities,” he said. “We don't want to hear stories of companies paying $37 million in penalties because they didn't want to do the work of inclusion.”
He calls it “bringing reconciliation into action.” The approach is paying dividends.
Superior Strategies’ partnerships with Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Enbridge, Supercom and New Gold, among others, already dot Thompson’s resume. Others are quickly coming on board with Thompson’s newer ventures, like Warrior.
One of his companies, Eagle Eye Warrior Engineering JV, is OPG’s first Indigenous nuclear-approved supplier.
OPG has recently been strengthening its ties with Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs across the region.
“It is clear OPG and Warrior Engineering are aligned in our values and vision for real economic impact and long term careers for Indigenous people, by exposing young people to opportunities in technical fields,” Alison Bradley, OPG’s director of supply chain strategy, wrote in an email.
“This work is blazing a new path of Indigenous engagement and inclusion in engineering and the trades.”
Just before Christmas, Thompson and Superior Strategies signed into a Western Canada partnership with Birch Narrows Dene Development and the MMLK Group in Saskatchewan to launch All3Innovation LP. The Indigenous majority-owned high-tech and robotics company specializes in products for the mining, industry and the commercial sectors.
The buy-in represents a big change from recent years where Thompson said it was a challenge to convince clients that Indigenous businesses were ready and willing to team up.
“Now it’s great when manufacturers and partners reach out to me and say, ‘We love the Warrior brand and what you’re all about. Can we work with you?’”
“I'm like, yeah, for sure. But one of the stipulations is to hire our people. I want Indigenous people to be part of the manufacturing of these products.”
The Warrior brand is a statement, not just about Indigenous culture, but it's a reflection of drive and determination, two characteristics Thompson recognizes in ambitious Indigenous youth.
Sometimes that latent drive just needs a bit of a push from a mentor, a role Thompson gracefully accepts.
That’s why he’ll clear his schedule when a remote community asks him to visit and speak to the youth.
“I tell the kids that I'm no different than anybody else,” he said. “But I'm not afraid to go out and lend a voice and share my thoughts.
“I'm hoping that they'll see that your goals can be achieved, they can be accomplished.”
His connection to Red Rock — he left his community at 24 — remains strong. The 38-year-old remembers the influence positive role models had on him and his peers.
Coaches, Elders and teachers can help with healing, Thompson said. But having a cheerleader, someone to point you in the right direction, can serve as a springboard into the business world.
That type of encouragement is sometimes missing in smaller communities, he said.
“Unfortunately, the line to give you a kick in the butt is often far longer than the one to give you a pat on the back,” Thompson said. “So I want to be in the line giving a pat on the back. If you keep doing it, keep rocking it, that's really the important part of it.”
If there’s one thing that can slow his positive energy are stories about violence — especially self-inflicted violence — in remote communities.
“It always makes me sick to my stomach when you hear of young people taking their lives,” he said. “We have conversations here internally, with our staff. We have this Warrior brand, and we have something that we want people to be inspired by.
“And when we hear stories of people taking their lives, we're not getting our message out there.”
So far, that message is making its way through northern communities, especially with millennials.
Pass by any construction or work site in Northern Ontario and you’ll likely to see the Warrior brand — a four-coloured spearhead encircled by the medicine wheel — on workers’ hoodies or toques.
It’s a design inspired by his past, his community, and the teachings he was immersed in.
“The circle is important to us as Indigenous people; we believe life evolves in circles,” he said. “So we've incorporated those principles within the logo. We also include this spearhead as just kind of a traditional symbol.”
In an interesting bit of coincidence, during an archaeological dig outside Thunder Bay, it was Thompson’s wife who unearthed one of the oldest spearheads, fully intact.
That moment influenced the decision to brand the company as Warrior. Despite the name, it’s more about the journey to self-discovery than it is about conflict.
“I don't care who you are, what colour you are, where you come from. It’s about inspiring people to say, ‘I'm gonna get up and get involved.’
“That’s part of who we are; that’s part of the warrior mentality,” Thompson said. “Because Warrior in itself is about inspiring people.”
Thompson often draws inspiration from his staff.
“They inspire me, from single moms to people who are dealing with addictions issues, to see how far they've come.”
Others in the community are quickly catching on to Thompson’s enthusiasm.
He was recently selected to chair the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, he co-founded the Anishnawbe Business Professional Association, and is on the board of directors at Shkoday, an initiative offering young Indigenous children educational and culture programming.
Despite his many commitments, Thompson said he’s still working at full throttle with no signs of slowing down.
“On the service side with Warrior Engineering, we're doing some training programs right now to introduce Indigenous folks to engineering and the technical side of things,” he said.
“We're not just training heavy equipment operators and carpenters anymore,” he said. “We're creating a pipeline, and having some of the largest corporations in North America reach out and wanting to do business with us, and we're holding their feet to the fire, too.
“Honestly, the sky's the limit.”