Wednesday, 16 August 2017

FNHSSM is the Indigenous Development experience

By Gabriela Jimenez, 2nd year MDP student

Nanaandawewigamig FNHSSM blankets in the boardroom

The First Nations Health and Social Secretariat (FNHSSM) is the organization that hosts Partners for Engagement and Knowledge Exchange (PEKE). FNHSSM has multiple types of research projects, health interventions, educational programs and many other activities; most of them implemented in Manitoba, but also with national and international scope. So, because having holistic good health is one of the most important aspects of development, I think that the contribution of this organization to the Indigenous development in Manitoba is enormous. 

FNHSSM has a prominent level of commitment with First Nations communities; and in order to preserve and revitalize the “traditional, cultural and modern ways of healing,” they ensure that the Elders participate in the knowledge exchange between western and traditional methods to enhance communities’ health. Every activity held by FNHSSM is developed in a culturally safe and respectful environment.

Because of my field placement with PEKE, I had the privilege to attend different organizational meetings, talks, discussions, workshops and seminars. Some of them are oriented to educate and integrate FNHSSM community: employees, families, partners, advisers, etc.  In my opinion, these activities, besides demonstrating the significant role of FNHSSM for community development, they also give employees the opportunity to present their perspectives and to hear others’ experiences regarding current and relevant health-related topics in the provincial and national context.

I have learned not only from my assigned responsibilities, but also from the always-happy office colleagues, from other intern students, the nutritionist, the community speakers, doctors and researchers. It is always challenging to decolonize research, and I consider that this placement was my opportunity to practice decolonization on my own mindset. 

It is the end of the field placement, and I know that the Evaluation Plan was my deliverable that implied much more than academic or professional knowledge; it was the pretext to learn from people that are highly committed to work hard to make a change in others’ lives, especially those affected by colonialism.

The FNHSSM staff - smiling as usual

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

At the end of the line

 By Stephen Penner, 2nd year MDP student

The Yup’ik communities that I have travelled to and the Yup’ik people that I have travelled with have shown me another side to what it means to be “Indigenous.” The YK Delta (Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta) homeland of the Yup’ik sits literally as west in the west that you can go out of sight to the average Alaskan and invisible the rest of the USA.  Most Yup’ik communities are fly in, outside of a few exceptions, and are served by small (6-8 seater) planes that arrive without a great deal of regularity.  20,000 Yup’ik people live in 56 villages that span this immense territory- as vast as Nebraska or equal to just over 2.3% of the size of Canada.

Bird on a wire
The Yup’ik people are part of the Inuit and Inupiat (Alaskan Inuit- a term not as commonly used but assumed by academics and scholars) family.   The Yup’ik are considered  a tribal nation and are part of The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 18, 1971.  ANCSA is a sort of modern treaty- interpreted to a Canadian context- funding both the non-profit and the for-profit entities within the Yup’ik and the 4 other distinct Alaskan tribal territories.

Fishing boat
I had visited many Northern Indigenous communities before my first visit to a Yup'ik community. It felt uniquely remote.  In contrast, I feel connected to the south while traveling in Northern Canada; hamlet offices display the communities' connection to the rest of Canada, the RCMP, and Co-op/North West Company and the Arctic Rangers being prominent reminders of the North/South connection. The Alaskan community remains deeply proud of its Yup’ik culture and roots, eminently respectful of its Elders and has created a culture of inclusion to visitors like me.

The work that chose me for my final MDP placement was to re-connect and re-engage with Dr. Stacy Rasmus a researcher from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I first encountered her work while attending the model Arctic Council last year. I was simply floored at the role that she played in empowering communities to deal with a host of health-related problems.

That being said, my path was not entirely clear when I arrived. I spent the first week digesting Qungasvik (Yup’ik for tool kit) and gaining book knowledge in regards to how I needed to walk with respecting the Yup’ik story, before engaging with community. And understanding the power of this tool.

The Qungasvik is a community-built response and a community-delivered suicide and alcohol reduction program.  It promotes youth sobriety and reasons for living. Qungasvik was built out of a suicide epidemic in Alakanuk, another Yup’ik village, and that village has seen an almost complete reversal in suicides since the full implementation of the toolbox. 

The Qungasvik provides communities with connections to Elders, to stories with resources, readings, land based activities, videos and more.  The tool kit is used by a community response team and is built on a culturally relevant platform.  As an outsider, I can never understand the Yup’ik experience, but I have come to deeply appreciate the learnings, objectives and goals of the tool kit during my short time in Alaska.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Sustainable solutions to education and employment in the form of community based training at the Atoskiwin Training and Employment Centre

By Cassandra Szabo, 1st Year MDP student

I am doing my placement at the Atoskiwin Training and Employment Centre (ATEC) in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) located on Treaty 5 territory 800 kilometers north of Winnipeg. ATEC is a training to employment facility that was born out of the Wuskwatim agreements between the First Nation and Manitoba Hydro. Manitoba Hydro was to create a facility that would train local members to build the generating station, however once the dam was completed the long term use of the facility was in question. The need for training, specifically training that leads to employment is a crucial service necessary on the First Nation, the executive director and others in the community saw this value and advocated to keep ATEC as a training centre. The systemic inequalities on Canadian First Nations mean that students are falling through the education system and not getting the education they deserve and need to gain employment, so this became ATEC’s goal- to fill the gaps and build up their community.

Me standing in front of ATEC

ATEC intake process
ATEC realized that not all the students coming to them had the same levels of education, some were below a grade 8 level, some above it. In order to better serve the needs of the students and place them into the proper program, ATEC created a unique intake process which not only assesses their academic level, career hopes, but also their emotional and social wellbeing. This process is done through an online testing system, and then for the wellbeing assessment a trained individual will evaluate mental health and substance abuse vulnerability. If it is deemed that a student may struggle with addictions or mental health they are encouraged to attend the Medicine lodge and then return to their studies. This process has been crucial in ensuring the success of the students. If an individual is struggling outside of the classroom then they may not succeed in the classroom and this leads to a feeling of defeat, low self-esteem, and then potentially that individual will not pursue any further training.

ATEC has a variety of programs that students can enter based on where they have been assessed. Students can enter in programs that will help them with literacy and numeracy, up to first year university. Students that take the Mature Student Diploma Program also have a mentorship opportunity which enables them to gain work experience in the field they are interested in. Additionally, ATEC has had extensive success with their Integrated Trades program which pairs those interested in carpentry with a Red Seal to gain the necessary skills for the field. ATEC pursues programming that has direct job opportunities attached to it, and this has been called a “Labor Market Intermediary” by the Canadian Council for Policy Alternatives. A Labor Market Intermediary creates relationships between various actors that are necessary for individuals to find and keep meaningful employment. These relationships are formed between, employers, education and training centers, government, funding agencies, and community organizations. The Labor Market Intermediary ensures that low-skilled workers are targeting their training to targeted sectors.

College prep graduation ceremony
My time at ATEC is spent doing a variety of things that the staff need support on, so far I have worked on:
  • Education program proposals – Each year ATEC has to write a proposal to continue programming from University College of the North.
  • Funding Proposals – ATEC is in constant need to secure new funding, so funding proposals are a crucial part of the organization.
  • Accreditation applications – In order for ATEC to be able to issue credits they need to be an accredited institution, and the application for this is lengthy.

I have also been able to sit in on some exciting meetings that are discussing the future of the organization and future initiatives!