by Erin Knutson - Invermere Valley Echo
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Mark Strahl, and Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks were in the Columbia Valley on Monday, August 18th to hear local ideas about increasing aboriginal participation in the labour force.
Discussion on breaking down barriers and overcoming real or imagined hurdles that prevent the employment of First Nations people took place during a three-hour Columbia Valley Aboriginal Workforce Initiative Roundtable at Copper Point Resort.
The event provided a unique opportunity to analyze the key First Nations issues of employment, skills training, human resources planning and integrated community partnerships in the valley.
“Basically it was a workshop. The full results of the outcomes have yet to be determined. There were over forty people who participated and it was a great way to to engage the First Nations — it was long overdue and a great conversation between people who don’t normally meet. We should definitely do this more often in the future,” said Susan Clovechok, executive director at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The voices of the First Nations, local business operators and employment services united to discuss solutions for better integrating a vastly under represented workforce. Of the pertinent issues discussed at the meeting of minds, cultural awareness and sensitivity training were brought to light as discrimination and prejudice is often at the forefront of problems with First Nations relations in the workforce.
“What we really want is a positive work environment. It’s really hard to work in an environment with judgement. I’ve been through it a couple times on the job and it’s so important not to be judged, very important. Sensitivity training is key,” said Nevada Nicholas, Akisqnuk First Nations resources stewardship assistant.
“Our people are willing with open hearts and open minds. They just need the opportunity,” said Ms. Nicholas.
“The College of The Rockies has a good relationship with First Nations. For example, the Three Voices program, which provides access to education for adult learners. Funding is important, new knowledge — it’s an important process, creating new community venues and a solid network,” said Doug Clovechok, Invermere campus manager at the College of the Rockies.
“It’s about opportunity and the success stories, which are measurable,” he said. “If we provide nine students with access to our programs, five out of nine are gainfully employed.”
The roundtable’s focus on heightening First Nations integration was encouraging to those in attendance.
“I was very happy with the initiative,” said Akisqnuk First Nation councillor Marguerite Cooper.
“I was impressed with the discussion about First Nations education. First Nations people learn differently, we’re more hands on. We have certain issues and it’s about gearing our students in the right direction,” she said.
Issues with the current education system are a serious problem, according to Ms. Cooper. The school system is underestimating the abilities of First Nations students and preparing them for menial labour, she said.