Economic reconciliation taking root in southwestern Manitoba

Helping serve food at ceremonial feasts is the kind of experience that may not typically appear on an Indigenous teen’s resumé, but a southwestern Manitoba group is helping youth rethink their approach to job hunting.

The Brandon Friendship Centre’s GAP youth outreach is holding workshops to help Indigenous youth translate their experiences into employable skills.

“If you spent time in the bush on the rez, learning how to live on the land, learning how to navigate, learning how to, you know, assess is this ground safe to walk on … how does that relate to an employment skill?” said Lisa Noctor, co-ordinator for GAP, or the Gakina Abinoojiiyag Program — an Ojibway name that translates to “all children.”

The youth program, aimed at young people age 13 to 29, who are most vulnerable to homelessness, is starting resumé workshops on Wednesday, where people will sit down with anyone interested in rejigging a key job-hunting document.

It’s important to understand “that Indigenous ways of knowing and living and being” are skill sets that can be shown and demonstrated on resumés, Noctor said.

Noctor sits at the GAP youth outreach kitchen island. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

But employers must also adjust their hiring practices to recognize Indigenous ways of knowing and living as experiences that make people hireable, she said.

It’s all part of a larger effort in Brandon aimed at economic reconciliation — the inclusion of Indigenous people and communities in economic opportunities.

Assiniboine Community College is working with the Congress of Aboriginal People to offer tuition-free programs to Indigenous people who live off-reserve in two areas seeking workers: a farm equipment operator course and an applied counselling skills certificate.

“This type of program offers that opportunity for those that really are sitting at home thinking, ‘I’m not going to ever have a chance for an education because I can’t afford it, I don’t have the support for it,'” said Michael Cameron, the college’s dean of community development. 

A Tipi Tour Legacy Project installation is on display at the Assiniboine Community College campus on Thursday. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The programs are part of ACC’s approach to reconciliation. Cameron describes that as a process of reciprocity and focusing on what the post-secondary institution can provide to First Nations, which the college hopes inspires a mending of relationships with communities.

“These kinds of partnerships, when we work together and collaborate together, this is what enables … providing an educational opportunity to so many people that probably would not otherwise have an opportunity for an education, or even to further the education,” Cameron said.

Benefits for all of Canada

Economic reconciliation was the topic of a discussion hosted by the Brandon Chamber of Commerce at the end of 2021. 

It looked at basic steps businesses can take to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in the workforce, said new chamber president Tanya LaBuick.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected those efforts, she said, but she hopes economic reconciliation will return as a priority for businesses as they hopefully stabilize after several turbulent years.

“Everybody can realize their full potential and their shared prosperity,” LaBuick said. “I’m super hopeful … that this is not only a priority for folks but something to look forward to.”

Part of economic reconciliation is opening your mind and acknowledging the impacts of colonization on contemporary society, said Kris Desjarlais, Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council vice-chair and ACC’s director of Indigenous education. 

It’s important to recognize how challenging it can be for First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to find meaningful employment when moving from their home communities to urban areas, he said.

There may be culture shock adapting to urban living, compounded by the stigmas, stereotypes and systemic racism urban Indigenous people face, he said.

Desjarlais recommends business people take time to read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to help them understand.

“We don’t make it that easy for them to make that transition,” he said. “If, only if, we opened those doors and give them more opportunities, I think that we would have seen some changes rather quickly.”

It’s important to recognize the inequities in the workforce and then find ways to bridge the gaps, he said.

Ultimately, hiring more Indigenous people benefits the entire community, Desjarlais said.

“It not only benefits Indigenous people, it benefits … all of Canada,” he said. “We’re reducing inequities and we’re increasing opportunities for employment, education and wealth building.”