A land-based project northeast of Cochrane is helping participants heal while providing them with hands-on carpentry skills.
“We’re interested in making sure Indigenous people and marginalized people have careers and well-paying jobs and jobs that sustain life,” said Arlene Hache, the executive director of Keepers of the Circle.
Their first project, delivered through the STARS model, is in partnership with an Indigenous non-profit called Wahstaywin.
The organization, led by Cherilyn Archibald and Kane Faries, provides holistic land-based healing through ceremonies and traditional activities.
For this pilot project, 10 Indigenous participants are learning carpentry skills by building a healing camp, located one hour northeast of Cochrane. They also engage in traditional practices and activities when they’re out on the land.
Wahstaywin was already working on building cabins when Northern College and Keepers of the Circle came on board.
Sometimes, people are ready to work physically but not mentally or emotionally due to their trauma, grief or emotions that are affecting them to be successful at a workplace, Archibald said. That’s why there’s a focus on the spiritual part.
“When you’re working with individuals, when they have a balance on that medicine wheel, then you’re setting them up for success,” she said.
“And reconnecting to their culture and getting to know themselves, connecting back with Mother Earth. And at the same time, they’re on their healing which is great.”
The CreeQuest Corp. also made a monetary donation to the project.
Before going into the bush to build cabins, participants took online culture confidence and competence program by Keepers of the Circle that focused on health and wellness, personal and professional development.
Then they took online safety training and working at heights training provided by the college.
Kelly Lamontagne, project co-ordinator at Northern College, said online training allows students to stay in their communities instead of travelling, especially during the pandemic.
For this project, local tradespeople Robert Quachegan and Kane Faries were hired to deliver the in-person, on-the-ground part of the training.
“We’re doing our best to use local community experts to be able to use that mentorship in the community. That way, when the program itself is done, that knowledge stays in the community, that relationship and mentorship continue beyond the program,” Lamontagne said.
“It helps young people get jobs in the trades.”
During their six-week stay in the bush, the participants are building the foundation of three cabins and will be putting up the walls and the roof.
The second intake of students during the winter months will be completing the rest of the cabins.
Participants are also involved in cultural learning. They harvested a moose and a bear and learned how to smoke meat.
“Just being out there is healing, and being away from Facebook and all these distractions helps them become stronger spiritually,” Archibald said.
At the end of the project, participants will receive a college certificate. Some of them want to stay for the second intake to continue their healing, Archibald said.
To remove barriers and provide flexibility to the participants, the Keepers of the Circle covers transportation and accommodation, provides childcare support and tablets so they can look for jobs and stay connected.
“It’s really individualized. It’s looking at the particular person’s interests and where they want to head. Then step by step laying out what they need to do to take them along that path,” Hache said.
“And if there are barriers – and there usually are, whether it's housing, childcare, transportation, remoteness, or lack of access to technology – we have funding in place to provide those concrete supports.”
Wahstaywin does its best to support participants who are interested in pursuing further education, Archibald said.
“That’s where Northern College will come into play. And because they’ve already done this training and gained a certificate with Northern College, it’ll be easier to assist them in getting into like the pre-program or carpentry program or pre-trade programs to support them for their career,” she said.
"That's the goal: to continue supporting our people through healing out on the land, through ceremony. And also to support them during their individual employment plan."