By Lethbridge Herald
lethbridge herald — BLOOD RESERVE
Indigenous people in Canada haven’t had the same kind of opportunities as those who arrived here after them.
Former prime minister Paul Martin established the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative in 2008 to help right that wrong. Tuesday he was at Kainai High School on the Blood Reserve to meet with the first students to benefit from the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP).
“A great injustice was done for far too long. Those days are over,” Martin said. “This country, if we are going to be able to compete with the Chinese, the Indians, if we are going to be able to hold our own in a world of huge populations far greater than ours, we cannot afford to waste a single talent.”
The goal of AYEP is to teach aboriginal youth about business and entrepreneurship and encourage them to complete high school and go on to post-secondary studies. The program has specially developed teacher and student resources which focus on an aboriginal point of view.
“Education is the key to these students succeeding and education is the key to this country succeeding,” Martin said. “This is the first time that this program has been introduced on a reserve in Alberta.”
The first AYEP materials were distributed to participating schools in 2011 after folks at the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative determined it was crucial First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) people have an opportunity to understand what business is all about. They gathered information from the best business courses in Canada and in the United States and later incorporated FNMI constructs and beliefs.
“These are the first set of textbooks and workbooks that have ever been produced for indigenous people teaching high school business anywhere in the world,” Martin said. “The purpose of this course is to teach these students about how to be entrepreneurs, how to be business people, how to basically do marketing and accounting, how to design an idea and then get it out and sell it.”
Martin, along with Brian Porter, CEO of Scotiabank, listened to five students in the Entrepreneurship 20 course at Kainai High School present their business ideas. The program is a joint venture between the Blood Tribe, the Kainai Board of Education and Scotiabank. Kainai High School started using the AYEP materials last November.
“Youth entrepreneurship and education on reserves like this is critically important,” said Porter. “Small businesses are the backbone of this country.”
Teacher Darcie Thomas said she incorporated several activities, including visits to Scotiabank and Lethbridge College, where they sat in on a business class. In class they learned how to do business plans and participated in challenges similar to those on “The Apprentice,” “Dragon’s Den” and “Shark Tank.” The students then came up with their own business ideas, which included a babysitting service, a T-shirt design business, a yard and lawn care service, a sportswear store and a beadwork store.
“To get them interested in it I had to do a lot of hands-on activities because they were unsure. Business is so new to them they didn’t know where to start,” Thomas said. “Once I got them to open up . . . they got all excited and they worked well together.”
Mackenzie Yellowhorn, a Grade 11 student, said she found the experience valuable even though it created some anxiety.
“Throughout the course we were all focusing on this day, the launch, and it was really nerve-wracking and scary presenting in front of all these people. Now, once I did it, I’m more confident in myself and I think I really do want to go through with my business plan,” she said.
Her business idea centred around coaching young girls about their appearance and helping them feel good about themselves.
“I noticed here in my school there’s a lot of shy girls and I think it’s a good way to get them out of it,” Mackenzie said.
She said she’s planning on taking the next level of the course and definitely has her eye on taking business courses at the post-secondary level.
Seeing her students succeed in the course was a proud moment for Annette Bruised Head, principal of the school.
“I know that our students are capable of so much and that with every investment they will rise to the challenges and become successful, independent and respectful citizens of our community and our country,” she said.
For Chief Charles Weaselhead, programs like the AYEP create a seed in young people and let them know there are opportunities off of the reserve.
“The way to access the best opportunity is number one through your education,” Weaselhead said.
Bruised Head has been at the school for five years and during that time graduation rates have been increasing. Whereas three students graduated five years ago, last year 15 graduated and more than 30 are expected to graduate this year.