The focus of career counseling is generally on issues such as career exploration, career change, personal career development and other career related issues.

Fifteen years ago, when I last attended the National Career Development Conference as the Post-Secondary Cooperative Education Coordinator for the Province of Manitoba’s colleges and universities, there were
perhaps double the Native delegates from the first year I attended the event – in 1988. So this is a good thing and each time I have attended in the past fifteen years there has been an increase in both Native delegates presenters and in the number of delegates generally interested in Native career issues.

The first time I attended a meeting for Canada Prospects (a now defunct career tabloid with a million copies distributed to high schools across Canada), the meeting did not even mention Native students. As a Metis mother of six who has worked over thirty years in the field of Education, I did mention this omission to the group and asked if any of the 80 representatives from Canadian education who were in the room knew the statistics on Canadian demographics. None could identify the number of Native youth under the age of 24 years of age.

Based on attending numerous education and career events in the United States over the past few years, I fear the same lack of knowledge with respect to Native Americans and education is the same.

Although changes have been made and awareness has increased, it is still a challenge to provide the information necessary to help people generally and career counsellors specifically understand the differences between our Native community and that of the general populace.

SAY Magazine was my dream to provide information and awareness to Native students with respect to careers, career opportunities and how to achieve a career and was inspired by the lack of this information from other sources.

In order to provide useful services, whether to Native people or other groups, it is necessary to have an understanding of the circumstances under which people are living – i.e. immigrants have a different set of circumstances when ooking for employment.

So – in my opinion, this is how career counselling for Native people is different – We are a very diverse group of people – different histories, different languages, and different cultures. The late Bill Hansen, a Cree man and retired Indian Affairs employee, wrote a book called ‘Dual Realities’, where he put forward his theory that about one-third of our Native people are educated, employed, culturally aware and involved.

It is the other two-thirds who need some assistance. The major identifying factor for many of these two-thirds is ‘POVERTY”, with geographic location having a major impact on all aspects of their lives. When you live on
a ‘res’ it is a different culture than when you live ‘off the res’. When you live in the ghetto in an urban area, it is a different culture.

When you live in a remote or semi-remote community, it is a different culture. When you live in a community that has little access to people other than those in your tribal affiliation and background – you are ‘living in a bubble’.
When we deal only with the urban, educated and experienced life skilled Native people, we make the generalization that all Native people have these skills – not so – our community includes people who can hunt, trap, dress out a sheep, and create art in the traditional ways which require skills most of us have no clue about – but those same people may not know how to get on a bus or cash a check. We have young people who can use a cell phone to connect daily or hourly with friends, but who may not be able to read a set of directions to complete an college registration form or scholarship application.


Many Career Counselors start out with assumptions at too high a level for the students – Begin with Basics – doesn’t hurt to go over them again.


The Bubble Most would not be aware that career counselling is available and where to obtain this assistance.
Many would not have assistance from parents or others in the home.

Most would not be aware that employers have specific needs when hiring. Most would not be aware of specific job
skills and soft skills, nor the difference.

Most would not be able to identify how to obtain these skills. Most would not have a mentor. They do not understand that they must compete for jobs. Comments such as ‘Friday is payday’ as they go to their band office to pick up a social assistance check, do not provide reality experiences to help live outside the bubble.

Many have never been in a non-native person’s home. Most would not have information on specific careers, or know anyone, let alone a Native person, in some of these careers. Keep in mind, when you are ‘in the bubble’ you do not come in contact with publishers, writers, technicians, appliance repair people, public administrators, oil & gas supervisors, managers, banker, engineer, et cetera. Do they know what jobs are in high demand in their area? Are they prepared to move – and that is a major question for Native students.

These young people are familiar with: teachers, social workers, child and family workers, bus drivers, law enforcement officers, nurses, etc. And most certainly, many are not aware how you get a job in those fields, let alone
the education and time required, as many of their peers have to move away from the community, leaving those ‘in the bubble’ limited knowledge and/or experience with training needs.

For many, many, of our young people, they do not get away from their home community
until they travel to attend school – and there are cultural shocks, including all the people around, transportation issues, lack of familiar places and people.

Many of our young people have children and have not had to face the realities of day care, transportation, back up care for children etc. For the sponsored students, they are often not aware that applications have to be competed in advance. Usually financial assistance forms are required to be completed months in advance. Some counselors do
not have experience with registration or scholarship application forms – which is why so few students apply, even for Native specific scholarships. Some of the Native people working in the Native schools are very limited in their own personal experience.

Many of the non-Native people working as counselors have limited knowledge of our realities. Then there are the different requirements from the various funding agencies. For example, most colleges require that the
students have insurance through the student council, but some Tribes have insurance and will not purchase additional insurance coverage.

Some institutions have now set aside housing specifically for Native students, but does the living allowance provided cover the cost?

Do you, the career counselor, know what your institution offers to Native students so you can direct the students’ career search?

Does your institution have partnerships, offer cooperative education/work experience (which by the way, is often not paid for by the sponsor as the tuition for this work term is not part of the regular course tuition)? What are the different requirements for sponsored versus non-sponsored Native students?

WHY it is important to understand the differences:

In order to counsel on what, how and why careers are important, it is necessary to be aware of the realities students are facing – we are all familiar with the student who has a dream of being a doctor or astronaut, and while realizing anything is possible, as a career counselor it is our job to point out the realities and the challenges so the student is prepared for the obstacles and has some assistance in identifying them and how to face them.

One thing is certain: none of us can make the necessary changes alone – EVERY ONE OF US