(ANNews) – The first and so far only winter storm to hit the Capital Region this season did so on November 24, and though it caused a minor delay to the start of the two-day 2015 Alberta ASETS Forum, it didn’t put a damper on the spirits of the many people who attended the event, some driving through the snow from as far away as the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta.
(l-r) Treaty 6 Grand Chief Chief Tony Alexis, Gina Potts COO of A3 Limited, SIAFN Executive Director Charlene Bruno and Derantech President Mike Deranger.
“This year’s Forum was very successful,” noted SIAFN Executive Director Charlene Bruno, who said the 2015 event, the first since 2012, “drew more than 120 professionals, business leaders and Chiefs from across Treaties 6, 7 and 8.”
Bruno said the November 24-25 Forum, held at the Double Tree by Hilton, “provides an ideal opportunity” for the province’s “three Treaty Groups to collaborate, share best practices, discuss upcoming opportunities and showcase First Nation businesses, entrepreneurs and employment strategies/partnerships. It is an excellent opportunity for our Nations to network and exchange ideas on what’s working in our programming. ASETS plays a vital role in our communities in that it works to increase self sufficiency.”
SIAFN Society President Shannon Houle
“All Aboriginal Skills Employment and Training Strategy Stakeholders play an essential role in our communities to get our people trained and transitioned into employment,” noted SIAFN President Shannon Houle. “With more than 20 years of ASETS experience and challenges we are all well aware of the three pillars of success that ASETS is founded on – ensuring demand-driven skills development, forming partnerships with private sectors, provinces and territories and emphasizing greater accountability to achieve the best possible results. These pillars have their challenges, but as we serve the fastest growing population in Canada with the fullest potential and historically the hardest working population, I know and believe we can succeed because of the demand, diligence and dedication of hard-working people like you at the helm.”
Houle spoke about her first employment opportunity noting that “I was just a young, naive and impressionable Nehiyaw woman trying to find her place in society” when she got a summer job via a sponsorship through the ASETS partnership at the local human resources office, “now known as the Saddle Lake Training and Employment Centre.”
She spoke about the important role that employers, sponsors, mentors, Elders and others have when it comes to working with young people seeking their first encounter in the working world.
“My first job wasn’t a glamorous job; picking up garbage and helping to beautify our local lakes, beach and camping area. At 15 the only joy was being outside in the sun and being with my peers. When I got my first cheque I was so proud and excited – my own money that I worked for – like any teenager I spent that first cheque foolishly. It was empowering, it was liberating, and it gave me a sense of freedom. I know many of you are working with youth and older adults trying to find their way – but remembering those powerful feelings” of earning that first cheque “reminds me about the important role that you all play in being a part of an experience that helps to empower, guide and see (our young people) succeed.
“You all play such an important role in so many lives and for some, their first interaction with you is what helps them reach for their goals because a job is more than that; it’s a career – a place where many of us spend at least eight hours a day and sometimes more hours in a day than we spend with our families and friends. That’s why your roles are so crucial. The message I want to share with you is that as our people face old challenges and take on new ones in this ever-changing economic climate, they need you to help them find their place so they can fulfill their role in society. We have to always remember where we come from and where we want to go. Before contact we were a 100 percent working people; with your help and the help of people like you, we can get there once again.”
Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis
Treaty 6 Grand Chief Tony Alexis talked about the important work being done in the communities to ensure that people are being trained and mentored and the significance of passing along ideas and strategies to the leaders and Chiefs of the communities so they in turn can fight for better conditions, better resources and better opportunities than what is now available.
“Filter your information and findings across to your leaders so they can be more effective in negotiations with government. Right now the way it works is that government is going to decide what the best strategy is going to be, how much money they have, how many resources they will offer and then say ‘that’s what’s available – work with it.’ That’s the way government has operated since the residential school days and the 60s Scoop. They continue to say they have the best answer – ‘we’ve studied all your data and from that data we are going to contribute x-number of dollars to build your community’ – all without realizing how it works in the community. They look at the numbers, at the percentages of what it costs to get a person employed and then determine what that success factor is. When we look at it from the national level the Assembly of First Nations, our Chiefs should be bringing your information and input forward. Sometimes the government feels that Service Canada is not a treaty issue but the truth of the matter is that everything is, everything relates to who we are as a people. Everything relates to our ground, to our land, to our Elders.
Melissa Jacknife and Coreen Youngchief work with driver education program.
“To the government it’s about statistics, economics, commerce; to us it’s about the core of who we are; it begins with the Creator and the spirit of the people and the gifts we have as a people. It’s important as technicians that you get your information to your leaders, to the Chiefs and Councils so they can bring these arguments to the regional and national level. Right now we are not hearing what it is you need to fight for, what it is you need to stand for. As technicians I encourage you to continue to do the good work that you do in supporting and helping the people in your community – keep reaching out to them. Right now in our nations we are at a point where we are succeeding more than ever. If you focus on the negative you may not see it but if you look at the good stories you’ll see that we have evolved to a place that when the next opportunity comes to us, it is going to be good for all of us. Those here today are succeeding as are many others in our communities; today we need to encourage our people, we need to help them replenish the energy and the spirit that we have here today. We have more academic educators than ever and on top of that we have people who are practicing their culture, their languages and their songs. It’s a new beginning, it’s a new day and we are in a good place so let’s work together, move together and give thanks to one another as we move forward.”
The two-day event heard from numerous speakers and presenters representing organizations and companies that included the Alberta Indian Investment Corporation, Blood Tribe, Trade Winds and NEAAI, Interior Heavy Equipment Operator School, Nautuasis Safety Services, Derantech Welding, Junior Forest Rangers, Saddle Lake Employment and Training Maskwacis Employment Centre, Driftpile First Nation Training and Employment and more.
Saddle Lake HR Director Andrew Redcrow
“Earlier this spring we were trying to find a way to bring additional training initiatives to our Saddle Lake community,” explained Andy Redcrow, Saddle Lake Cree Nation Director of Human Resources. “We wanted to provide some heavy equipment training and that is a very costly endeavour. We learned that there could be funding available from a Canada-Alberta Job Grant program and after speaking with the Saddle Lake administration and our Public Works department we came up with a proposal and applied for the grant.”
Various departments and entities on the First Nation participated in the initiative and in mid-July the money was approved and training commenced two months later. The program was taken by 10 band members, all of whom passed. Eight are currently employed by Public Works and two others were hired elsewhere. The band provided two of the trainers; both had years of experience on heavy equipment. Interior Heavy Equipment School, with training sites in B.C and in Alberta provided the equipment and the extra trainers.
“We trained 10 people,” noted Redcrow, “on equipment that included graders, caterpillars, scrapers, front-end loaders and gravel trucks. Our driver training program also taught classes and graduated two Class 3 drivers” who are now operating gravel trucks. The Canada-Alberta Job Grant paid for two-thirds of the training costs with the Saddle Lake First Nation picking up the rest of the tab.
“We also wanted to train some of the people who work for administration,” added Redcrow, explaining that about 400 people are employed through Saddle Lake administration. “We looked at various options and in the end partnered with NAIT; some of our staff went on to take computer training as well as book-keeping and accounting.” Once the guidelines for funding were clear and fully understood, “it only took about a month to process the paperwork” and attain the grant.
Forum participants Sandee Willier and Colleen Courtoreille work with employment strategies on the Driftpile First Nation.
Various employment and training program leaders were also on hand to talk about their policies and procedures; each was similar in what they do and what they offer.
Colleen Courtoreille said the programs and services available through Driftpile First Nation’s employment service “are geared toward strengthening clients, increasing independence and building strong support networks” to help facilitate the process. “The employment services motivate, assist and support individuals and work with them as they choose their occupational direction. We help our clients develop a career path and then help them to attain the skills they’ll need to find employment and maintain long-term stability.”
“I’d like to thank and applaud everyone who attended this year’s Alberta ASETS Forum,” said SIAFN President Shannon Houle. “Thank you for making this Forum a success and for sharing your community’s best practices. The opportunity to work together and learn together enables us all to walk away feeling fulfilled and accomplished. I wish you all warmth and joy during the upcoming holiday season.”
Last month, Treaty Six Aboriginal Skills, Employment and Training Strategy (ASETS) agreement holders and partners hosted “the largest job fair in Alberta organized by First Nations for First Nations.”
The Treaty Six ASETS Employment Partnerships and Job Fair, held at the Ramada Inn on Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton on October 28-29, 2014, was a unique event that brought Treaty Six First Nations members together to meet with business, industry and educational institutions to explore career, employment and educational opportunities. The event also provided a venue for business and industry to network with First Nations leaders and entrepreneurs.
The event got underway with an opening song performed by the Amiskwaciy Academy Drummers, led by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and an opening prayer by Saddle Lake Elder Adrian Redcrow. An array of guest speakers took to the podium to talk about the many opportunities in Alberta today for young people seeking to improve their lives. Most talked about alternative career paths and encouraged job seekers to explore the hundreds of different industries operating in Alberta, each with opportunities for career-minded individuals. Exploring the trades and learning what it takes to become a journeyman welder, electrician, plumber, iron worker, auto mechanic, heavy duty mechanic and more was urged by almost every speaker, including Naresh Bhardwaj, Alberta’s Associate Minister of Persons with Disabilities (Reporting to the Minister of Human Services).
(l-r) Shannon Houle, Adrian Redcrow,Chief Rusty Threefingers, Louis Bull Tribe; Chief James Jackson, Goodfish Lake First Nation, Tribal Chiefs Employment Training Services Association and Hon. Naresh Bhardwaj, Associate Minister of Human Services. Article and photos by John Copley
“I always encouraged my trades students to work hard and finish their apprenticeships because if you have a trade you will never be unemployed,” he assured.
Now serving his second term as an Alberta MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, Mr. Bhardwaj began his career as a tradesman who earned his Journeyman Ticket as an auto mechanic in 1983, then went on to teach auto mechanics, mathematics and physical education for 18 years in communities that included Pincher Creek, Red Deer, Whitecourt, Calgary and Edmonton. He also graduated from the University of Alberta with a double major.
“I really enjoy attending this type of job fair; there’s no better way to get things done than by participating and working together” to achieve common goals. “Together we are helping people develop their job skills, find employment and advance in their careers. This job fair is a great way to connect Albertans to rewarding careers that are in demand.”
Louis Bull Tribe Chief Rusty Threefingers agreed, calling the 2014 Employment Partnership and Job Fair “an important venue that allows us to mix and meet with industry and government and create opportunities that will give our youth the chance to learn and grow and participate in the work being done by industry in Alberta today.”
“We are very pleased to see so many of our youth come out to see what is available in the workplace,” noted event spokesperson, Charlene Bruno, the Executive Director of the Six Independent Alberta First Nations Society of Maskwacis (SIAFNS). “First Nations ASETS offices work diligently and collectively to develop effective partnerships that address the demand driven needs of the labour market. This event was another opportunity for business and industry to explore the development of meaningful employment and industry partnerships with First Nations within our territory. I am happy to note that many businesses and industries took advantage of that opportunity.”
More than 30 companies participated in the Treaty 6 October Job Fair
Shannon Houle, a Saddle Lake First Nation Council Member and an SIAFNS Board Member, introduced herself as an unscheduled speaker, noting that though unprepared when asked to address the crowd, “I found a way because that’s just the way life works. We do what we have to do – just as those youth that are here today to learn about employment opportunities, will have to meet the challenges that are placed before them.”
She talked about the challenges and struggles she had growing up as a teenage mother “who hadn’t yet finished high school.” Noting that she “comes from a “family that understands the importance of earning a living” and realizing “that lots of people in this world have challenges to overcome,” Houle told the gathering that “perseverance is imperative and that no matter what you have to do to make progress, you do it. I had goals and I wanted to follow those goals so I worked as a maid, cleaning up after rich people and took on small jobs that came available.”
She also had an interest in wood working that came in handy, when, as an adult she moved back home and found herself “hired by my nation as a cabinet maker.”
Houle said that turning her hobby into a job that paid the bills was a rewarding experience that she said “proves that if you have interests, if you have talents, if you have dreams and goals, you can make them come true. You just have to continue to work at it and as you do, you will move forward.”
During her short oration Houle also spoke about overcoming negativity, something she had to do earlier in life when people made comments such as: ‘you’re a teenage mother – your life is over.’
“It is not over, believe me,” she assured. “If you want to succeed, you are in the right place today. You have the opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about the trades and other careers you are interested in pursuing. Coming to these trade shows is important, but it is just as important for you to let people know what you can do and what you’d like to do. You have to ask questions; you have to be fearless. If you sit back you may never know what kind of opportunities you missed out on – and they are everywhere, especially here where employers are gathered to let you know what they are looking for and what the labour force needs.”
The Job Fair’s breakaway sessions included the topics of resume writing, job interview skills and entrepreneurship. Dozens of exhibitors representing government, business, industry and post-secondary institutions had the opportunity to meet with and talk to both first time job seekers and qualified workers. Among those holding mini-workshops and information sessions were Trade Winds to Success, Alberta Works, Oteenow, Service Canada, Primco Dene, Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation, Maskwacis Employment Centre and the Northeast Alberta Apprenticeship Initiative.
Elder Francis Whiskeyjack participates in prayer and Honour Song to open Treaty 6 Employment Partnerships and Job Fair initiative
Numerous guest speakers took to the podium throughout the event and an evening gala held at the Oasis Centre heard from keynote speaker, Kelly J. Lendsay, the President and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council. Lendsay is an internationally recognized social entrepreneur for workplace inclusion, diversity and partnership building.
Statistics Canada recently reported Canada’s unemployment rate is at the lowest it’s been in six years, with a large number of jobs created in Alberta. The Alberta economy is booming and needs a workforce. First Nations youth represent the fastest growing demographic in Canada, but they are underrepresented in the workforce.
“Government, business and industry groups that recognize the opportunity our young workforce represents and are willing to work with First Nations as partners, will benefit in the long-term,” said Tony Alexis, Chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
His words were echoed by those of Minister Bhardwaj, who, as an active Edmonton community member for more than 36 years, has served on many associations, establishing Youth Link, a youth employment training program, and coaching soccer at the community league level and for Juventus U-18.
“This job fair,” he assured, “is particularly important (especially) as Alberta continues to struggle with meeting the demands of its employers. The most recent statistic indicates that we have 300 people moving into Alberta every single day; despite that we are forecasting that by 2023 we will have a shortage of about 96,000 workers. Premier Prentice recently noted that the Alberta workforce and its labour force strategy must respond to market demands to ensure that we have the workers we need. Our First Nation communities are underrepresented in our workforce. Events like this are crucial to our province’s success. They can help Alberta’s employers who are struggling to find workers with the right skills. More than 118,000 First Nations people, along with our Aboriginal youth, play a critical role in continuing our work force strategy. That’s why we are also moving forward with our Employment First Strategy, which is crucial when it comes to employing people with disabilities.”
“In light of a shrinking labour force and labour market demand,” added Chief Alexis, “the First Nations population, particularly the youth, represent an untapped talent pool that can help Canadian and Alberta business and industry meet their future business goals. Business and industry can assist First Nations by creating an environment, which contributes to the growth and development of education, training, and job creation opportunities. The time is now to ensure First Nations youth have access to the same quality of education and training as any youth in Canada. Alberta must recognize, along with the rest of Canada, that our economy requires an educated and prepared First Nations population. Alberta businesses and industry depend on it, and our youth deserve it.”
Event sponsors included Osum Oil Sands Corp., Shell Canada, Trade Winds to Success, Primco Dene LP, Clean Harbors, NAIT Corporate International Training, Encana Services Company Ltd., Devon Canada Corp., Fort McKay Group of Companies LP, and All Weather Windows. Government and municipal partners were Service Canada, Government of Alberta – Alberta Jobs Skills Training and Labour, and the City of Edmonton.
The Treaty Six ASETS Steering Committee is comprised of the SIAFNS, Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation, Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training Services Association and urban ASETS agreement holder, Oteenow Employment and Training Society. The ASETS boards and committees are comprised of First Nations leadership and professionals, representing 17 Treaty Six (Alberta) First Nations.