We need to invest in our future. We need to invest in our people. To make the most of opportunities resulting from fair land and resource settlements and true self-determination we need well educated and well trained citizens. We need trades people, we need business people, we need professionals, we need healthcare workers, and we need educators. As re-emerging Nations developing our own economies we cannot truly flourish without trained people to work in our new First Nation businesses (whether privately owned or owned by our communities), who can take advantage of new economic opportunities both on- and off-reserve. We also need to fill many positions in our emerging public service; the people who work, or will work, for our governments. And we also need an educated population to participate in our Nation building; a population that can make informed and educated decisions in our very participatory systems of ‘grass roots’ democracy.
First Nations are the fastest growing population in Canada and employers will need to rely more and more on our citizens to fill existing and new jobs in the future. This means there will be more opportunities for qualified and trained First Nation workers. Also, many employers now have affirmative action and preferential employment programs for our citizens; often a result of political pressure or negotiations. Organizations are now often required in title and rights benefits agreements, or when development is taking place on-reserve, to hire qualified First Nation workers. There is limited benefit in having employment preference/rights if there aren’t people to take the jobs because they do not have the skills needed.
Our Nations are in an exciting period of ‘Nation Building’. Change is occurring in our communities and our citizens are directing that change. There is a need to focus on educating our citizens about the changes that are occurring to our world as we move away from governance under the Indian Act and as we take greater control of our own lives. As First Nations’ leaders we expect a lot from our citizens just as they expect a lot from us. We are all expected to make important decisions about our future, including participating in referendums and verification votes concerning complicated agreements. Many of our communities have developed effective communication and education tools for their citizens to ensure they are well informed. We can build upon this success and ensure that all our citizens can meaningfully participate in the public policy debates that communities must inevitably go through in order to take advantage of opportunities and maximize their potential for success. An educated electorate is part of the key to unlocking the opportunities that lie ahead of us. Informed decision making results in better decision making and stronger community.
Education must be part of each Nation’s critical path. As such we must do our best to further the networks of our people working in this area so we can build on our success. The BCAFN will work to ensure that resources are available to continue our efforts to ensure we have an educated and trained population that is well suited to take advantage of our opportunities.