Indigenous Skill Building

Naturally Wood

British Columbia’s construction sector is anticipated to grow significantly in the coming decade, making skills training for young people—the workforce of tomorrow—essential. To meet this need, Indigenous communities throughout the province are investing in the next generation to build capacity in both traditional and technological skills. 

Indigenous communities are some of the fastest-growing communities in the province, with an increasing number of youth keen to learn new skills. These initiatives are growing practical know-how for participants, and the investments also build a sense of pride and connection in Indigenous communities throughout BC. 

The province’s construction sector is anticipated to grow significantly in the coming decade. To meet this need, the Construction Foundation of BC developed the Indigenous Skills program to increase interest in woodworking among young people. The initiative helps train and support school educators new to woodworking while providing hands-on trades discovery workshops for K – 12 classes. Through a wide range of culturally-rooted woodworking projects, youth learn practical skills relevant to future opportunities in trades.

Indigenous Skills workshops are produced by First Nations artists from across BC and share the traditional skills from Elders and local experts to First Nations youth and their educators. The crossover relevance to careers in high-demand skilled trades is infused within the process. Workshops for youth and teachers are offered online or delivered in person when safe to do so and feature projects that primarily use locally-sourced western red cedar and yellow cedar

The initiative connects participants with renowned Indigenous artists throughout the province. Artists developed projects from throughout the region, many of whom are part of delivering workshops based on their projects for First Nations schools.

“The project plans can be used as catalysts to encourage learners to launch an investigation into their own culture—for example, the history behind a project such as the canoe bowl can be used to initiate thought and conversation around how it relates to the community utilizing this resource. Our hope is that these projects will encourage learners to ask critical questions, and foster discussions and thoughts about their own culture, art, and traditions,” Dean Heron says in the program’s welcome message.

The projects are diverse, spanning paddle carving and a feast tray to a soapberry spoon and canoe bowl, and more

“For us, it’s been critical that we build community ownership into everything we do. We aren’t showing up and delivering to communities; we’re doing it with communities. Along with practical skills training, we have local Elders come and share stories. It’s a really good chance to hear the history of carving in the community,” says Jordan Perrault, director of strategic initiatives for the Construction Foundation of BC.

“Most participants were brand new carvers,” said Heron after leading a virtual workshop with the Witset First Nation on how to carve canoe bowls. “A lot of them never had held a carving tool. Getting the opportunity to watch them make everything happen and seeing them complete their projects was pretty awesome. The really great thing that comes out of these workshops is how the students help one another finish things and sort out problems together.” 

The virtual delivery method of the workshop was also a success, with Heron instructing remotely from Vancouver Island while Witset participants joined online from their community.

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