I remember the first time I heard an elder speak of the term Nêhiyawak. We were meeting with our youth who were embarking on their journey in secondary education. Like many young people, they were having difficulty realizing their full potential – their gifts – and were challenged with staying in school. The elder explained that we were Nêhiyawak people – a deep rooted identity of whom we were traditionally and who we are deep within, rooted in our spirit.
It was a powerful teaching that day, and I sat in awe as I listened and looked around at the youth as the elder spoke. I thought to myself, ‘We need to do more. I need to do more…for our youth and for our community. We must create a new existence for our members and create a new history.’ I believed we, and especially those youth, deserved so much more.
We were warriors, providers of our people, holders of abundant strength and connected to the ancestral ties of our ancestors, who signed Treaty Six to ensure we would continue providing for our people and honouring our gifts.
In 2013, an idea, years in development with a vision to take our members from dependence to independence, came to fruition with the creation of the Iron Buffalo Centre (IBC) at Mistawasis Nehiyawak, Saskatchewan, Canada.
We started the IBC in a newly vacant Health Station, a building that had a name but no definition or meaning to our community. We had remnants of left over furniture that came from all departments and staff who worked in silos, committed to their jobs and duties as their programs required. We received very little committed funding to support IBC, so partnerships and friends were crucial to our existence.
As a start-up program, one of our first partners was the Ministry of Economy, Province of Saskatchewan. We also utilized our independent ASETS funding which we monitored in the community. To ensure we were following through with our mission of building capacity within the community, we looked at our Income Assistance client statistics and began an intake process with all clients, creating a detailed registry. We needed to understand more about the business and about our members, thus we visited service providers in larger centres to learn best practices and began fostering partnerships.
Through the process of intake and case planning, we identified the need for our community members to continue or complete their education, and created a plan which would enable them to fulfil their career goals.
The IBC has transformed since 2013, undergoing minor renovations and now clearly conveying its purpose in the community, with a staff who take ownership of the building and work as a team. Within the first two years of opening the IBC, Income Assistance amounts were reduced by $400,000.00. Every year we continually reduce Income Assistance amounts, gain new partners and provide on-site training with accredited institutions that create opportunities within the community and align with employment and career development.
In 2017-2018, we were selected as a Demonstration Project through Employment and Social Development Canada and completed 15 training programs in our community. We trained almost 300 people in various sectors and provided education to reduce barriers to employment. We support and financially assist those who are ready for employment to ensure they have the requirements to become successfully employed.
The IBC has proven a success. Our trainees leave with accredited, real, hands-on, outcome-based training that is relative to the demands they will encounter in the workforce.
Gratitude must be given to our governance, IBC staff, all our partners and friends who see our vision and share in our success, but most importantly we are grateful to the members who have found their skills, resurrected their gifts and have found their place in the workforce.
The Iron Buffalo Centre is committed to providing opportunities to our community members and to anyone who wants an opportunity to make a positive change in their life, create success and find their Nêhiyawak within.
Submission by Shantelle Watson
Director of Education, Training and Employment Iron Buffalo Centre Presenter at the recent Cannexus 2018 Conference