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Lax Kw’alaams members celebrate skills graduation, momentous life turnarounds

It wasn’t just any graduation ceremony.

This wasn’t just any graduation ceremony, for members of the Lax Kw’alaams community it represented much more than certificates, new skills, or high test scores.

Seventy-two members from the community completed the Aboriginal Opportunities for Upgrading program and the Introduction to Trades Construction program, coordinated by the UA Piping Industry College of British Columbia and Lax Kw’alaams mayor and council this past month.

But as much as the ceremony at the Highliner Plaza Hotel conference centre was about completing the programs, it had as much to do with significant personal milestones that each of the 72 students (25 on hand for the ceremony) reached.

Those included moving past residential school trauma in the family, looking forward for a better future, creating change in the community of Lax Kw’alaams and taking a first step forward in long and prosperous careers.

“It gives them more of a positive outlook for themselves,” said Lax Kw’alaams deputy mayor Helen Johnson on May 16.

“Having people like [Piping Industry College coordinator] Kelly Sinclair to lead them, it’s a real awesome thing.”

Sinclair was one of many coordinators and instructors from the program (PIC) who helped the members complete the 16-week course, which included literacy, math and skills upgrading, as well as the introduction to 10 different trades. The program helped increase the participants’ math scores by an average of 36 per cent. As participants received their certificates, some shared details of their struggles to get to the point they reached now, which included drug and substance abuse.

Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin brought the program to the band council after seeing what PIC did in placing 150 apprentices with Rio Tinto Alcan in the past.

Lax Kw’alaams author and international speaker Calvin Helin was also on hand to congratulate the members on their accomplishments. The renowned business leader left the community at a young age to pursue his passions and has become a role model for band members since.

“Our programs are recognized in B.C. by ITA (Industry Training Authority BC) and the government as the most successful programs … We were able to get this awesome reputation because we connect the training with business and jobs with people in our community,” Sinclair said.

“Lax Kw’alaams and Prince Rupert and the rest of B.C. is hiring people from outside of B.C. We want to force industry into hiring these folks first because they deserve it first.”

Over the 16 weeks, the instructors were boarded in the community and gave the members training in classroom and hands-on settings. School District 52 also let the program utilize Charles Hays Secondary School and its resources.

Lax Kw’alaams director of business and employment services Carl Sampson now has the task of connecting the graduates with employment opportunities.

“The council has always been there for our people and make positive changes in everything that we do. The goal of these next four years is to make change in the community,” Johnson added.

Sinclair said that some of the members lost some opportunities when they were younger because they were forced to “parent their parents” after many have experienced post-traumatic stress from residential school experiences.

“I wanted to share my own lifestyle,” Johnson said.

“It was up to me to fix myself, to get better and move forward; to go back to school and become somebody that I’ve always wanted to be. I had to do that commitment myself and I believe these students have really now taken the time to look within themselves and to move forward.”