Recent History – 2004-2006
By Brad Lyon
The new executive director of the Nawican Friendship Centre is a strong advocate of increased local involvement for members of the Aboriginal community. Bernice Shadow started at Nawican on Dec. 1, and told those in attendance at a recent Pouce Coupe village council meeting that one of her main goals is to work with area employers to help increase and improve employment opportunities for Aboriginals.
“Employment equity, as wonderful a concept as it was, does not work for Aboriginal people,” Shadow said during her presentation. “What is happening, people are getting hired because they’re Aboriginal and they’re going into environments where they don’t understand the culture.”
When that happens, Shadow said that animosity develops between co-workers, even over something like bereavement leave, where the normal three days allotted by many companies isn’t nearly enough for the traditional Aboriginal grieving process.
“It’s important that the workplace be prepared for Aboriginal people, because we do have some cultural differences. There are some issues like eye contact, handshakes, how we view (things),” Shadow said, adding that bereavement leave is one of those significant cultural differences.
“We will drop everything and we will go, and when you have a wake that’s three days long, that’s just a very small part of how we do funerals. So the three days that companies allocate for funerals doesn’t work for the Aboriginal community. Those kinds of awarenesses will help retain and recruit Aboriginal people in the workforce.”
Shadow comes to the Nawican with an impressive resume of accomplishments, most of which have focused on increasing Aboriginal participation in the community. She has been part of the Friendship Centre movement for 22 years, starting in Fort St. John, where she was president for eight years. In 1994, she joined School District 60, as its first education and cultural coordinator. She helped create a First Nations education centre and facilitated the hiring of 22 Aboriginal support workers in 25 schools.
“With those accomplishments, we decreased the dropout rate of Aboriginal students, and we increased the graduation rate of Aboriginal students,” Shadow said. “We chose to integrate our culture. As opposed to segregating it and keeping Aboriginal children learning their culture separately, we chose to share it with the community.”
Most recently, she has worked in Grande Prairie. At Grande Prairie Regional College, she was the Aboriginal program co-ordinator in the Workforce Development program, where she assisted in forming the Aboriginal Development Centre which delivers custom programs to Aboriginal bands and groups in northern B.C. and throughout Alberta. As well, she has negotiated agreements with the GPRC and the City of Grande Prairie to enter into Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiatives (AWPI). They were the first city and college in Canada to do so.
“I am anxious to offer my skills and expertise toward the Aboriginal people and potential partners that want to work with Aboriginal people. I am a strong advocate for the strategies within AWPI,” Shadow said. AWPI involves improving and retaining Aboriginal people in the workforce, Shadow said, and helps prepare the employer through awareness training, “which I think is very key to this initiative.”
As part of AWPI, businesses/ municipalities are asked to complete inventories of available jobs and goods and services. “We have a lot of Aboriginal people with their own businesses, who would love to apply for your contract,” Shadow said. Shadow, who is also a member of the Rotary Club in Grande Prairie, said that she has been given a large mandate by the Nawican. Along with increasing Aboriginal community involvement, she has been contracted to increase programs, as well as develop partnerships with the centre and the Aboriginal community. Currently, the Nawican offers a number of programs to the community, including: New Horizons (alcohol and drug programs), soup kitchen, women’s group, culture and sharing circle, adult drop-in centre where many elders come and spend afternoons, giveaways of clothing and household goods, a native court worker, and services to young mothers.
But there are more plans for the future. “We’re looking at opening a daycare,” Shadow said. “Apparently we had a day care years ago…. We feel there is a need. We’re also looking at the crystal meth community response initiative. Our counsellor is building relationships and working with the community so we, as Aboriginal people, can respond to the potential of crystal meth in our community.”