Career Development – Two Realities

By L.C. Stanley

This is such a complex topic!

The late Bill Hanson, originally from a remote northern community in Canada, wrote a ground-breaking manual on programming named Dual Realities- Dual Strategies: The Future Paths of Aboriginal Peoples’ Development (1985) which is quoted and used world-wide.

One major concept for the manual developed from the realization that the various Indian/Native socio-cultural groups react differently to the acculturation process.

This concept, unfortunately, has not changed very much over the last thirty or so years.

When individuals live in a remote area (geographically and culturally remote), they are basically living in the bubble of their community. This includes jurisdictional boundaries (federal versus state/provincial versus tribal), as well as availability of information/services.

This translates into information about careers. Once while presenting to a group of Native career counselors, I asked them to name ten different careers. Out of a group of 30 counsellors, less than ten were able to do so in the time allotted. And these are the people providing information to our youth!

In one of the first issues of SAY, a medical doctor was profiled and the feedback was tremendous – not from non-native readers, but from members of our community who were not aware that there were Native medical physicians. I would like to think that awareness has changed in the last fifteen years.

How can anyone plan for a career if they are not even aware of that career’s existence?

And while one might argue that living in a larger town/city would eliminate this problem, I have to tell the story of going to an inner city school (K to Grade 9 at the time). The student population was predominantly Native in the middle of the Core area of that city.

We were part of the first-ever career fair at that school, and were a group of Native people from a variety of different career backgrounds. When asking a group of about eighteen Grade 7 students if any had identified what they would like to do when finished high school, one girl emphatically stated that her career goal was ‘pimp’. And her reason given for this choice was ‘fast cash’. In the class all knew what a pimp did for a living, and we explored other alternative career paths to obtain money in a safer and legit manner.

When telling this story to a Chamber of Commerce committee, one of the members was clearly quite upset by the story, so we stopped and addressed this. I had to point out that the girl was not exposed to many legitimate careers within her family, neighbourhood or acquaintances even though she lived in a larger city.

Does this mean that all Native youth do not have information on a variety of careers? No, absolutely not. However, in my own extended family, numerous members are ‘rezzed up’. Although they attend school on the reservation or in a nearby town, they live in the ‘bubble’ which keeps them isolated from information others take for granted.

When your parents are uneducated themselves and not stable, when teachers have limited information, when career counselors have never been exposed to proper training, your peers and relatives struggle just to survive on a daily basis and even though television is readily available, there are few mentors/elders available to these youth.

Doug Miles, the artist, tells the story of inviting non-native people from communities near San Carlos Apache Reservation to a feast and cultural exchange. Many of the artists from the community, including Doug, had travelled outside the community, but many had not. For the non-native people, no one had ever visited a reservation before.

The trepidation on both sides was quite high, but once people started to mix and mingle, they all realized that there was nothing of which to be afraid.

Often it is quite expensive to travel off the reservation and unless one has family and/or friend with whom to connect and ‘show the way around’, it can be very scary to take the step. Some groups/communities are more comfortable reaching outside their safety zone of their own community and people than are others.

STEM subjects, the impact of athletics, knowing the ‘right’ people to obtain assistance are all critical.

It is really important that we work with our youth to increase their comfort level to work and interact with those who can assist them obtain the information they require for informed career decisions.

L.C Stanley and colleagues are available for training and Development for Native People by contacting SAY Magazine – 1.866.485.2380