Housing and reconciliation topics at ec dev conference

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Engagement with Indigenous residents and housing shortages were two topics at a regional economic development conference.

On April 25, Community Futures Lesser Slave Lake and the Town of Slave Lake hosted Spark the North/State of the Lake in the Legacy Centre in Slave Lake. Over 60 people attended.

The conference was from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It included presentations and a panel discussion by local college and municipal leaders.

The municipal leaders represented Slave Lake, M.D. of Lesser Slave River, and Big Lakes County. The college leaders were from Northern Lakes College, which has campuses in Slave Lake, High Prairie and throughout northern Alberta.

“The partnership with other municipalities was highly effective,” says one of the organizers, Divine Kitchen with Community Futures, “that is what I envision when I apply for the grant for this particular event. Understanding labor market trends through demography, along with the importance of learning about Indigenous cultures and promoting understanding, is a collective responsibility that employers, leaders, and decision-makers in our community need to undertake.”

Topics during the panel included the immigration program available to businesses in Slave Lake and High Prairie, housing issues, improvements to recycling, training skilled workers locally, etc.

Doug Higginson, Northern Lakes College chair of paramedics and allied health gave an example of the housing shortage.

NLC only offered the paramedic program in High Prairie for one year, he said, because students couldn’t find housing. The course is offered in Slave Lake, but some students live four to a hotel room, because they can’t find proper housing. The college has student housing, but it fills up very quickly.

Indigenous people in the work force

Kristen Cummings spoke about how the ages of various populations affect the availability of workers, the worldview and work preferences of employees.

Canada-wide the population is aging, she said, because of a low fertility rate. However, immigration of people in their 30s and 40s somewhat balances this out. In the Lesser Slave Lake area, different areas have different population ages. Slave Lake has two big age groups – seniors and people in their 30s and 40s attracted by the oilfield.

The M.D. of Lesser Slave River and Big Lakes County have very few people except seniors, she said, because fewer farmers are farming bigger pieces of land and the average age of farmers keeps increasing.

High Prairie and Wabasca have a more traditional pyramid shape, with lots of young people and each age group getting smaller until you get to only a few seniors.

This is because Indigenous people have a birth rate of about four per woman, said Cummings. Whereas, Canada’s rate is 1.43 births per woman. This makes Indigenous people the fasting growing population in Canada.

The growth of the Indigenous population is one reason to find ways to bring more of them into the work force.

Dr. Patricia Makosis and her daughter Janice Makosis gave a joint presentation. Dr. Makosis has a doctorate in education. Her daughter is a law professor. They spoke about their own experiences as Indigenous women and their work educating people about how Indigenous people’s experience is shaped by the history of the conflict between Canada and Indigenous people.

Dr. Makosis lives on reserve at Saddle Lake Cree Nation and has relatives at Kikino Métis Settlement. She grocery shops etc. in St. Paul.

“I transverse two worlds everyday,” said Dr. Makosis. She knows the rules for the non-Indigenous culture, but many of her non-Indigenous neighbours don’t take the time to learn about Indigenous ways of knowing.

“We never sold the land,” said Janice. “We said we would share the land … Treaties are forever. They are not a thing of the past.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” she added. “There’s still racism. It took us 150 years to get to this point. It’s going to take 150 plus to get go a place where we (Indigenous people) are thriving.”

The State of the Lake portion of the event including a discussion panel with college and municipal leaders. From left to right, Doug Higginson (Northern Lakes College chair paramedics and allied health), Jasmine Light (NLC chair business programs and regional stewardship), Councillor Norm Seatter (M.D. of Lesser Slave River), Councillor Nancy Sand (M.D. of LSR), Councillor Richard Mifflin (Big Lakes County), Mayor Frankie Ward (Town of Slave Lake), and Kristen Cummings (change expert).

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