Indigenous literacy focus of new jobs program

CALGARY — Vinnie Van Overdyk understands what it’s like to start life without proper education.

Born on the Fairford First Nation in Manitoba, Van Overdyk said it was a long road to reach where she is now — helping develop a program to help Indigenous people learn essential literacy skills and benefit from job training.

“Over the years, I had to teach myself how to read and write because my parents hid me for a long time. I was 12 years old before I had my birth certificate. That’s when they (the government) caught up with me,” she said Thursday.

“They didn’t want me to go to the residential school. I had to learn my own way. I’ve done that I think, very successfully.”

Ottawa has put aside $2.7 million for the Further Education Society of Alberta, a non-profit organization that helps build literacy and essential skills.

It will partner with 15 employment service providers in British Columbia and Alberta to help 330 Indigenous job seekers improve their skills for jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry.

“That would be very exciting if we could teach our young people so that they don’t just sit in the classroom and pretend to learn something when they really don’t,” Van Overdyk said. “We can help our youngsters and adults so that some of the people don’t fall through the cracks, so they can live a successful life.”

Elaine Cairns, executive director of the education society, said the group will develop a template expected to be rolled out to other regions in B.C., northern Alberta and Ontario.

“It can be things as simple as working with others, problem solving, recognizing that you have to change some of your practices in the workplace,” Cairns said.

“You may need some upgrading of your reading and writing skills and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll go in and analyze what will make those individual learners be successful.”

Cairns said the contract is for 42 months but it may take a little longer to get things up and running. She said tourism seemed to be a good choice for the Calgary region.

“We had originally thought oil and gas but the timing for oil and gas is not really the best.”

Cairns said the training will be done in individual First Nations communities. It may also be tailored to other sectors in the different regions. The recommendations for the training will come from Indigenous educators across the across the country.

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