Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs (BATC)
Established in 2007, the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs Inc. (BATC) is a tribal council with the original first nations of Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, Moosomin First Nation, Red Pheasant Cree Nation, Sweetgrass First Nation, and Stoney Knoll First Nation signing the Convention Act. Two years later Saulteaux First Nation joined, followed in 2014 by Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation.
During the past 12 years the BATC has provided advisory services expertise to a number of areas within the community including housing planning, economic development, band governance, financial management, justice, and sports and recreation. Social development, employment and training, industry relations, and investments have been added to the list of expanding services.
The motto and guiding principle often associated with the BATC comes from the words of the late Chief Wayne Standinghorn: “Reduce social assistance clients by 5% per year.”
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Kerry Sasakamoose, Director of Employment & Training at the BATC, which is located in North Battleford, a city of about 18,000, about 140km northwest of Saskatoon, making it the fifth-largest centre in Saskatchewan.
“BATC was established to provide quality services to the community and to enhance the economic wellbeing of the people who live there,” begins Sasakamoose. “The Chiefs, the directors and the staff carry on that vision through the work we do each and every day.”
Serving as a central development authority, the BATC is led by the Chiefs and focuses on the improvement of all aspects that directly impact the tribes’ members’ lives, facilitating advisory services in areas of economic development, social and cultural aspects, community infrastructure development and maintenance, education, recreation, programs for seniors and youth, justice initiatives, and health initiatives.
“We provide quality advisory services and program delivery to the community, based on the needs and priorities identified by the leaders,” says Sasakamoose.
With respect to employment and training, the BATC examines case-by-case situations in addressing dependencies and working as a collective group to assist their clientele.
“When we talk about training and employment, we first need to assess where each individual is in their life, where they want to get to, and how to successfully get them there,” explains Sasakamoose.
The process used by the BATC includes asking many questions and learning about the required background information in order to set up the best possible scenario for success with each individual. Programs offered to people are largely dependent on where each person is in their life.
“We build a customized case plan based on their needs and addressing the challenges that they face, such as transportation and childcare. We look at short-term needs and requirements as well as map out long-term planning,” continues Sasakamoose.
It is a constant effort by the BATC to improve the on-reserves’ education level by preparing youth for a life of fulfilling work and educational opportunities. During its time in operation the BATC has developed a number of important partnerships throughout the years, including one with the University of Saskatchewan and its Indian Teacher Education Program (ITEP).
“We want to help everyone become more self-sufficient by creating a better economic spin-off from where they’ve been to where they are trying to go,” adds Sasakamoose.
The BATC takes the lead in assisting the communities in order to enhance employment opportunities with the intent to build upon that as a means of branching out on a more regional scale. It’s a matter of starting with a small circle and gradually making it larger as time goes on.
“Our Chiefs and other leaders in the community are the ones that have provided the success,” notes Sasakamoose. “Based on income assistance numbers since 2012 until now, through social aggregated development, we’ve seen an almost 13% decrease in numbers, and that’s a savings of almost $2 million in our income assistance program.”
“The savings we’ve managed are reflective of a great team effort at the BATC and the people that are being helped,” she continues. “It takes a strong team to address all the issues faced by the community, and it takes the backing of our leadership and the faith that they have in us to sign the agreements and buying-in to our thoughts and vision.”
The BATC has also started a youth program for 14-17 year olds on-reserve called the Community Opportunities Readiness Program. The overwhelming belief is that it is vitally important to delve into the minds of younger people and set them on the right path so that they are made more aware of what the future holds in adulthood.
“We start it at an early age and work closely with income assistance administrators and guidance counsellors because we want to have our children ready so that they are not knocking on the door at the age of 18 for income assistance,” says Sasakamoose.
The BATC installed the program as a method of both expediting preventive measures with those youth in the age range of 14-17 and also to make them fully aware that there can in fact be a much better life for them in the future if they pursue it.
“You have to dream it – and you have to want it. It’s up to us to help motivate them and extract those thoughts and ideas from them and plan a way for them to get there,” emphasizes Sasakamoose.
Once people within the community reach the age of 18 is when the BATC invokes a far more in-depth assessment. The BATC’s primary target is the 18-25 year olds, because they are the ones who require immediate training or will otherwise be looking to find direct employment, based on individual aptitudes. However, the BATC is also a resource for older people in the community who are seeking guidance support and counselling.
“We don’t eliminate anyone after the age of 45 by any means, but we find the longer-term effects of being dependent on a system are harder to take away,” explains Sasakamoose. “We have a new one-of-a-kind family centre in the province and we’re very proud of it. It offers a variety of services and helping people to get back to where they need to be.”
BATC clients receive comprehensive support and because of that various industries are provided with a skilled and reliable workforce, and the BATC member First Nations communities are subsequently given the opportunity to increase their overall standard of living. The BATC has assisted in the development of numerous well-trained individuals in areas such as plumbing, electrical, construction and the trades as a whole along with childcare. It’s now a matter of providing them with the available opportunities as a way to allow them to hone their skills.
“A big push for us this year is developing relationships with local and regional businesses in order to further expand the economic opportunities for the people in our community,” remarks Sasakamoose. “We are doing a good amount of training in terms of ensuring people are ready for what’s in-store in the workforce.”
The construction industry in Saskatchewan has been somewhat flat in recent years and because of that the BATC continues to monitor what other industry sectors are primed for growth over the next decade. A great deal of success is being able to foresee what industries are presumably going to create larger economic returns in the future and to adequately prepare for it. Sasakamoose says the retail sector is often an excellent catalyst as a starting point for laying a foundation in the development of one’s working lifetime.
“However, if we’re going to go to the next level I think healthcare and education are areas we would love to get more involved with. Agriculture is another sector that has shown promise and one worth pursuing,” she points out.
The BATC is all all-inclusive corporation, including Economic Development, Employment and Training Centre, Industry Relations and Social Development Aggregate. Thanks to the excellent efforts of the team at the BATC, there have been countless improvements. However, many on-reserve members still face various challenges with respect to lack of work qualification and experience, lack of literacy, addictions, child care, limited transitional financial support and culture shock when entering the workplace. It’s an ongoing challenge, but there is no doubt that positive results have been achieved, with more of that to come.
The BATC continues to provide excellent support for the community and is guided by ensuring each individual receives the training and programs they need. The BATC then takes it a step further by helping to introduce them to the best workforce opportunities, with the end goal of making each person self-sufficient. The vision of the Chiefs is to properly educate and train each person and have them ready to be valuable contributors to the economy.
During the next few years Sasakamoose says one of the things she would like to strive towards is having virtually no 18-30 year-olds being on income assistance.
“My hope is for them to have a better foundation thanks to all the support that we have now to provide to them. We want to help bridge the gaps that remain and get as many people as possible in that younger demographic off income assistance and have it be almost more exclusively for an aging population,” she says.
The BATC would also like to see the 9,000 people in its community be equally represented in local businesses. The ratio has been improving over the years, but there is still a ways to go yet.
“One of the big things for us is a search for great partners and by that I mean those who are employers. It’s a matter of giving our people a chance to succeed,” concludes Sasakamoose. “We want to make people’s lives better and we will continue to strive to do that.”