The Douglas First Nation, a small band on the northern tip of Harrison Lake, was recently awarded a government grant that will empower its members to run their own businesses.
The $405,000 comes as part of the BC Jobs Grant program, and will provide much-needed training and certification for community members living on the reserve.
"It's something we've been working on for a couple of years," explained consultant d'Artagnan Newton. "We've been slowly putting things in place to strengthen the abilities within the community, and this step was a final push where we managed to prove to the government that we were in a ready situation to make the best use of the grant money."
With an unemployment rate that hovers between 20 and 30 per cent, and few education or job prospects to speak of, Newton said the community was looking for ways to create its own business opportunities.
"There's not any other employment in the area apart from a bit of logging that's going on, so we actually want to try to develop people to work on their own entrepreneurial projects," Newton noted.
The grant funding will allow for trainers to travel to the reserve, where students will be matched with business mentors based on their interests. They will also be opportunities for band members to travel to Whistler, Pemberton and as far away as the Sunshine Coast to get a firsthand look at the day-to-day operations of other small businesses run by First Nations entrepreneurs.
"These are actually First Nations people who understand the issues faced on small reserves," said Newton. "We're hoping we'll get a good uptake on the program."
Working in partnership with the Indigenous Community for Leadership and Development, the training will be centred around the needs of several businesses under development by the band, including a sawmill, an arts and crafts workshop and various tourism-related products. A new Sloquet Hot Springs Tour, for instance, is in the works that will usher guests from Whistler by bus and incorporate local Indigenous culture and history.
The Douglas First Nation is one of several Indigenous communities in the region that belongs to the Coast Salish linguistic group, and shares close ties to Mount Currie. Due to its comparative isolation — the community is a two-hour, and often treacherous, drive to Pemberton — accessing necessary resources is a challenge. Recent improvements to a nearby forest service road is driving more visitors to the area, something the band is eager to capitalize on, Newton said.
The jobs training program is set to run from March to June. For more information, email Newton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Ottawa has extended the deadline to apply for Canada Summer Jobs funding until Feb. 3. The program provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses to create summer-job opportunities for students between the ages of 15 and 30.
"As your Member of Parliament, I want to ensure as many young people as possible in our community have the opportunity to get work experience this summer," wrote Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, federal MP for the Sea to Sky, in a statement. "If you're an employer, I hope you'll consider being a part of this important program."
The program is designed to create job opportunities that address both local and national priorities. Some of the priorities listed for the Sea to Sky include: housing; fisheries, tourism or heritage, transportation; arts, culture or literacy; and organizations that encourage collaboration between aboriginal communities and the broader community.
Applications can be made in-person at a Canada Service Centre or online at www.canada.ca.