The recent announcement of $242,000 in federal funding for the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's (SLCC) Aboriginal Youth Ambassador Program guarantees that 20 more students will gain valuable skills and connections to be competitive in the workplace.
In making the announcement, Pam Goldsmith-Jones, MP for West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, said: "The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's project gives indigenous youth the opportunity to build their skills through business and culture, toward successful careers, adding to the strength of our economy and the diversity of our culture."
The bonus is that students graduate the program with an increased knowledge and respect for their culture and roots.
"Since 1996 when the last residential school closed, to be frank, a lot of these young kids don't have any culture behind them," said SLCC executive director Brady Smith. "A lot of kids don't know, they identify themselves as First Nations as an Inuit, a Métis, and they don't know the differences because their parents all went through residential schools where all the information and tools were stripped from them."
Smith said students gain knowledge and experience from working in functional areas of the museum — including cultural delivery, as well as those from working in the café, gift shop, and work in maintenance and janitorial services.
"What we really want to get through is to ensure that we encourage our young First Nations employees — whether they work here or abroad — they want to take away their real life skills, including tradition and culture, which are just as important as the business acumen."
Smith said the results are exponential.
"It shows. We've decreased suicide rates in communities, increased additional education after this — kids are going to school and picking up different courses afterward. This has decreased the number of teen pregnancies in communities because kids realize there is more to life than staying on reserve, that they have to come out and explore those outside borders."
Smith said there are 20 students who go through the program every 27 weeks, and the hope is to not only encourage youth ambassadors from the communities of Squamish and Lillooet, but to accept any indigenous students or participants in the area.
"I think the biggest part is that we're really encouraging youth from all the communities outlying Whistler to come and participate in this and that for other community members, business owners in Whistler and in the Sea to Sky to realize that we've got an incredible young and talented workforce outside the parameters of Whistler and to really encourage young First Nations people to start working in their organizations so they can bring the cultural knowledge from their regions and territories to the forefront," he said.
"It's the foundational block for a lot of these kids to come here and learn and explore as a person, as a First Nations indigenous person, and that they can actually be proud of who they are and hold their heads up high for being a First Nations person."