Back in 2017, the Wood Manufacturing Council started a project, based on a successful proposal we submitted to Employment and Social Development Canada, to provide training for youth, individuals between 18- 30 years of age, to be delivered on the Blood Tribe First Nation.
The Kainai Nation or Blood Tribe is a First Nations band government in southern Alberta. Blood Tribe holds two reserves, Blood 148 and Blood 148A. Blood 148, the nation’s primary reserve, is the largest First Nation reserve by area in Canada. Its territory covers 1,342.9 km², and is located southwest of the city of Lethbridge, north of the town of Cardston, and east of Pincher Creek. As of 2020, 8,517 people are living on the primary reserve, making it one of the most populous reserves in Canada. In total, Kainai Nation has a population of 12,693 registered members. The Blood Tribe engages in diverse enterprises and they trade with domestic and international partners. They are also involved in a variety of economic, agricultural and educational programs aimed at preserving their territory, culture and environment.
Initially, WMC’s project was to consist of seven intakes of approx. 15 participants. Each intake consisted of 12 weeks training, two weeks in the classroom and 10 weeks of shop training. The shop, which we set up in conjunction with our project partners, was located at the Blood Tribe Employment and Skills Training (BTEST) facility, based in Glenwood, AB. The objective of the project was to help youth overcome barriers to employment and to develop a broad range of skills and knowledge in order to participate in the current and future labour market. The program promoted education and skills as being key to labour market participation.
As part of the training component, the participants took Essential Skills training in the classroom, that included lots of emphasis on measurement and numeracy, safety, employer expectations etc. Later in the training, participants developed resumes and job search portfolios that were used as the framework towards the career path that they chose to pursue. Guest speakers from the community were invited to the shop to talk on relevant and practical topics. Participants also gained certification in First Aid and CPR, the Construction Safety Training System, Working at Heights, Scissor Lift etc., depending on the intake. The balance of the time they learned in the shop, in part through individual and group projects that became increasingly more complex as skills were learned.
Participants also took part in a full-time, paid work experience of 12 weeks. They were placed into entry level positions in wood manufacturing industries in Standoff, Alberta (the main town on reserve) and surrounding areas. Participants were taken on by employers to hone their skills and continue to learn. The territory is large and often distances can be great. Sometimes reliable transportation is a challenge – there is no public transportation in the area. So, fewer participants did their work experiences and worked off-reserve than we might have originally envisioned. That said, employers like Triple M Housing, SRI Homes - Regent, Mountain View Industries and Structural Truss Systems Ltd. etc. gave the students opportunities and in many cases found very good workers who stayed on with them. Some participants found their interest was more on the construction side and they worked for companies like PCL Construction. There was a manufactured housing facility on reserve that, when operational, took on a number of participants as well. There were many on–reserve entities/employers, like Blood Tribe Public Works for example, that had a real need for the skills our participants were gaining and so there was always a good numbers of opportunities that were available to our students. They were involved in manufacturing, construction, renovation and repair, plus building improvement and maintenance etc., amongst other things.
WMC’s Manager of Project Development and Partnerships, Norma Ricker, led the project on behalf of the council.
“We have had the privilege of working with and delivering our very successful WMC Skills Training Youth Partnership Program in a unique environment,” Ricker said. For this project “Connecting First Nations Youth to the Wood Manufacturing Industry,” we were very innovative and we worked as a group, inclusive of the project participants, instructors, community members and employers. This project was highly successful, we had the opportunity to meet wonderful people and witness their gratitude for their community and Elders, their strengths and their desire to be successful. WMC worked with on reserve agencies, program officers and local communities. We met with key representatives, introducing the project and working with the community to ensure we had reached out to all parties, working closely with the social development department and their employment counsellors to identify the youth participants. We welcomed Elders to support the youth and they brought their prayers, wisdom and encouragement to the learners as they followed our program.
We offered 11 intakes of the training, all delivered by Aboriginal instructors, one being a Red Seal carpenter who had worked on major building projects in both Canada and the U.S. He provided his expertise, good care and guidance to the learners and drew on his network of local employers to add to the opportunities that were available for work experience. The project, which lasted more than four years, saw in the end almost 60% more participants than originally planned, because it was extended. The demographic of the participant target group was youth-at-risk, Indigenous youth, living in a rural/underserved community. Female participation was 19 per cent and 100 per cent of the participants were indeed Indigenous youth. We had over 165 participants in total. We also were invited to, in the final three months of our project, help to identify and fill 16 work experiences for Blood Tribe youth, with a variety of employers on the reserve.
Those at Blood Tribe charged with looking out for their people care deeply. They are committed to people’s success, and along with WMC’s program, they have developed many of their own programs and brought in others from outside, to engage and train people in a wide variety of disciplines. We will miss the work we did in Southern Alberta. We are better off for having been part of this project and grateful to have had the opportunity. We learned a great deal ourselves and got to work with some great people. We would welcome a chance to return to Blood Tribe some day and will look out for other opportunities to work with indigenous communities across Canada.