Ashley Montour from the Six Nations community in southwestern Ontario is part of a new mentorship program geared toward Indigenous youth. Photo by Mark Burnham

First Nations mentorship includes Catholic outreach

By 
  • April 30, 2021

The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) is laying the groundwork to provide more Indigenous youth with the training to succeed in roles that require the skill of technical self-reliance.

Chelsey Johnson, communications manager of the OFNTSC, says that Grades 7-12 First Nations students throughout Ontario are targeted by the organization’s new mentorship program, which is specifically geared towards helping youth pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers (STEM).

This mentorship program, which is spawned from the Technical Youth Career Outreach Project the OFNTSC established in 2003, is very much in its infancy as the organization is in the process of signing up its 30 first trainees by the end of May. Outreach to Catholic schools located close to First Nations’ communities is a key component of the recruiting strategy.

“We have seven Catholic schools that are located close to reserves so we will be doing regular outreach with them,” said Johnson. “We will provide regular information to them and also invite them to allow us to do a presentation in their class while also providing them with materials to hand out to students so they can learn more about these careers.”

Among the targeted schools are Holy Angel Catholic School in Etobicoke near Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, St. Edward Catholic School of Nipigon close to Red Rock Indian Band and St. James Catholic School in Eganville, which is in proximity to Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation.

A chief goal of the program, outlined in a news release to announce the program, is to “address the current lack of in-house technical staff that many First Nations face.”

“Our focus for launch of this new mentorship program is on promoting careers for youth in the areas of water/wastewater, solid waste, environment, trades, housing, architecture, engineering and any other technical area that First Nations need,” said Melanie Debassige, executive director of the OFNTSC. “We’re excited to be able to offer this incredible opportunity and hope to see an impact through increased rates of First Nations youth pursuing technical careers in the coming years.”

With the promise of the COVID-19 restrictions being eased during the summer months as more Ontarians get vaccinated, youth might feel more compelled and hungry than ever to actively pursue hands-on working opportunities as a tonic to being cooped up indoors for many months. 

“We’re hoping to generate a lot of excitement for the program as society opens up,” said Johnson. “And we want to get youth excited about technical careers. Sometimes people assume that technical careers like science, math, engineering or technology are nerdy subjects. We want to show youth these are cool fields of studies that can lead to a rewarding career.”

That’s why the OFNTSC is pairing youth with mentors who have lived similar life experiences to the students they will be taking under their wing. Cognizant of the historical roadblocks that have impeded Indigenous youth from attaining post-secondary opportunities, these mentors will help these teens chart a road map to achieving this goal.

For information, visit www.firstnationcareers.com.

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