In the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 2, Elder Francis Whiskeyjack opened the Pathways 2014: Gathering our Nations’ Youth for Trades annual conference with a Pipe Ceremony and a prayer. West Edmonton Mall’s Fantasyland Hotel laid out the tables, filled the dozens of buffet trays with great food choices and catered to the room full of conference participants as they sat down to an 8:00 a.m. breakfast. By 8:30 exhibitors lined the hallways leading to and from the main conference room and down the corridors that led to the dozen or more sessions rooms. The Build a Career in the Trades conference theme resonated loud and clear throughout the three days of sessions, presentations, guest speakers and keynote addresses. The conference provided an all-round wealth of information for youth interested in seeking to secure a future in the trades.
Elders Francis Whiskeyjack, Jerry Wood, Hazel Deranger and Myrtle Calahasen offered prayers and comments from the podium and words of encouragement and optimism throughout the event. Derantech Industries president Mike Deranger offered welcoming comments on behalf of the Sunshine Children Education Society, noting that the goal of the conference “is to leave our youth delegates with the message that being Indigenous is an advantage, not a barrier.”
Deranger said the conference hosts and sponsors “stand together as we encourage all youth to realize and understand their potential and seek out the opportunities that are available to them. Indigenous youth are the workforce of tomorrow. With the support of Indigenous leadership, major industries, educational institutions, Aboriginal business, and the resource sector, our goal is to help you build a bright and successful future.”
The annual national conference, which was held in Vancouver in 2013, is designed to bring Canada’s Indigenous youth (ages 16-25), together and to expose them to information and resources about careers in the trades. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation was the host Nation for this year’s event; the host school was Amiskwaciy Academy; Ambassadors included Kayla McCarthy, Sharon McCarthy, Chelsey McLeod and Miranda Willier. The conference was managed by Karen McCarthy of the Alberta Indigenous Entertainment Group, Eva Stang of Eva Stang Consulting, Faron Cahoon of 4fakt and Cristina Gattuso of Derantech Industries.
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam sits on the Board of the Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) along with five other Chiefs from Alberta’s northeastern sector. He told the gathering that the positive momentum being realized by Canada’s Indigenous peoples and communities today is a clear indication that this is not the time to sit idly by and watch while others reach out to attain their goals.
“We often hesitate to head out of our homes in search of a better future, but this is our time to shine and as such this is the ideal time for our youth to explore the various opportunities that await them, an ideal time to choose a career path and begin down that road to a better life. If it is true that more than 90 percent of First Nations youth are failing the grade, it’s primarily because they fail to network, to meet other people and to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. The opportunities to succeed are there and you need to get up in the morning, seek out those opportunities and act on them. The challenge is a simple one: think about your future, think about tomorrow, know what it is you want to achieve and plan your next move and work, one step at a time, to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Don’t let peer pressure steer you off-track; be decisive, be positive, be aggressive when it comes to securing your future. If you don’t apply, you’ll never be accepted so when you leave here today remember one thing: you have to be the catalyst to your own success because without effort achievement is not possible.”
Foreign workers, noted Chief Adam, are taking jobs that young Aboriginal workers could be performing.
“And that is just not acceptable,” he said. “As the workforce ages and diminishes it is time for you, as young and intelligent Aboriginal youth to step up and be the difference-makers. The opportunity is there and all you have to do is knock on the door. I understand that our education levels need to be improved and that our skills training needs a boost, but we must not let that stand in the way of progress. More and more employers today are making the effort by offering boot camps, skills training sessions and opportunities for Aboriginal youth – be sure you explore those opportunities..”
AFN Regional Chief for Alberta, Chief Cameron Alexis took to the podium and talked about the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Edmonton and the importance of following through on the healing path. He spoke about his youth, noting that he had been brought up in a traditional environment and raised on a trapline near Lodgepole by his grandparents. He spoke about the importance of identity and knowing the ins and outs of treaty agreements and treaty rights. He told the gathering that “we need to talk more about who we are and we need to pay attention – you know, like you do when you are hunting – when seeking career opportunities. You have to get up in the morning; there is no such thing as can’t and there is no room for complacency.
Athabasca Elder Fred Djiskeini Deranger lauded the “efforts of the youth and the participation of the many businesses and educational institutions who came out today” for the work they are doing to create more opportunities and a better for future for all Canadians.
“I’d like to see this process go at least one step further,” he noted. “I’d like to see the networking and the efforts everyone has put out to make this conference a success continue into the future. We need to come together, as Nations, to achieve our goals. We have too many labels, too many burdens and too many people without sufficient education. We have too many of our young people out of work, too many believing that they have no hope. We need to turn that around and the way to do that is by communicating, by sharing our ideas, by talking about successes and by overcoming our failures.”
Keynote speakers included MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, NWT politician Stephen Kakfwi and professional contractor, television personality, Mike Holmes. Their words of encouragement, coupled with the dozens of information sessions offered by industry, educators and companies seeking new workers, helped to ensure that Pathways 2014 delivered the message that everyone wanted to hear: Plan your future, overcome the obstacles, persevere each and every day and you will achieve your goals.
by John Copley