New pilot project explores pathways to employment and community building for Indigenous youth in Alberta

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Miyomahchiowin means “in good health” in Cree. It also means employment opportunities for Alberta’s Indigenous youth in sport, recreation, health and physical activity through an innovative program led by Ever Active Schools. (Read the Evaluation Report)

The Miyomahchihowin project, which ran from August 2016 to March 2017, offered Indigenous urban youth the opportunity to gain high school credits, skills, training and qualifications in the sport and recreation sector. The goal of the pilot project is to provide Indigenous youth pathways to greater workforce participation and community building. The project is also an important step towards reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and supports the government’s vision to get more Albertans more active more often.

Led by Ever Active Schools, the project engaged other partners like the Edmonton Public School Board, the Provincial Fitness Unit, the Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Program and the City of Edmonton.

The project is timely as it coincides with Alberta’s continued economic recovery and improving job prospects. However, despite this upward trend, Indigenous people in the province continue to face barriers to employment.

Alberta’s unemployment rate currently sits at about 7.9 per cent, but the unemployment rate among Indigenous population in the province is more than double the overall rate at 16 per cent. As nearly half of Indigenous people in Alberta are under the age of 25, this growing demographic faces challenges in obtaining proper education and workforce training. The potential to engage Indigenous youth and have them lead economic development and wellness training is both inspiring and necessary.

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The 23 Indigenous youth who participated in the Miyomahchiowin project raised a number of challenges they face securing proper education and training towards employment.

For example, one participant expressed interest in becoming a nurse practitioner, but recognized that educational upgrading would be required.

“Last year I looked up a bunch of stuff…a lot of sciences. I will have to go back to science 10 and go from there. It will be a lot of work. I wish I thought about this when I was younger. Because I had no idea what I was doing. I was not so into school, I didn’t even care.”

Others seemed daunted by the prospect of completing their education altogether.

“I feel like I’m never going to be ready for university. Even high school sometimes is too much.”

Building confidence among the participants was a project focus. This was accomplished through a leadership training weekend and then a spring break camp. Both activities targeted high-school aged youth and provided free opportunities to obtain certifications, training and high school credits in the fields of sport, recreation, health and physical activity.

First Nations, Métis and Indigenous youth participated in a range of sessions at the camp, from physical activity to leadership training, while earning credits, training and certifications for things like sports coaching, officiating, First Aid/CPR and WHMIS.

A female participant mentioned the cultural aspect of the program as a highlight and how it will help her become a stronger First Nations person:

“Having this opportunity in my life will assist me in moving forward and reaching my goals of a higher education and a positive community member. I am also a really shy person and this program will give me an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and meet new people.

“With these certificates that I obtain from these courses I want to help people in need, and give back to my community. I want to be a role model and inspire the young Indigenous girls and boys around me.”

Overall, the youth expressed overwhelming satisfaction with the program. Looking forward, a longer-term evaluation is required to determine whether the program led directly to employment or volunteer opportunities. But with new skills and updated resumes, participants say they are upbeat about their prospects.

“I feel a lot more confident with my skills,” said one.

“I feel like I can get a job now,” said another.

For Miyomahchihowin organizers, the positive feedback highlights the strength of Alberta’s Indigenous youth and the importance of multi-department cooperation and support in helping them realize their potential.

“Miyomahchihowin helped to build up the youths’ self-esteem, self confidence and belief in themselves,” says project coordinator Katelynn Theal. “There were youth who attended over spring break that said they usually struggled to wake up on time for school. But they woke up every day for this program and flourished. They were surprised with how much fun they had, and by the friendships they developed, all while accomplishing something pretty impressive.”

Based on the success of the pilot project, Ever Active Schools is exploring future training opportunities with Edmonton Public Schools and the City of Edmonton. Looking forward, organizers say they are optimistic about the potential to create more pathways to employment for the province’s Indigenous youth while also helping them become leaders in health and wellness.

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