The provincial government announced an additional $360,000 for All Nations Driving Academy, a Terrace-based driving school aimed at increasing access for remote First Nation communities.
Melanie Mark, the minister of advanced education, skills and training, was in Terrace today to make the announcement with the school’s founder, Lucy Sager, Kitsumkalum chief Don Roberts, Kitselas councillor Cyril Nabess-Bennett, and others. The money is from the province’s $30 million Indigenous Skills and Training Development Fund.
“At the First Nations Leadership Gathering, all of the chiefs talked about driving being a huge issue, a huge barrier to their communities. Every single chief said, ‘Our members can’t get to their medical appointments. They can’t go to school, they can’t get a job, they can’t hunt and fish because of barriers like driver training,” Mark says. “We have to do everything we can to reduce those barriers.”
Sager started the All Nations Driving Academy after similarly realizing transportation can be a difficult issue in remote communities, especially when there are vast distances separating residents from services like driving schools. A majority of the thousands of new trades jobs expected in the region over the coming years will require applicants to have a drivers license.
“This allows us to keep going. When people don’t have a job, they don’t have funding for driver training, they’re just stuck in this perpetual cycle. It’s just fantastic that [the Ministry] sees the value here,” Sager says. “I think we’re just getting started.”
The All Nations Driving Academy provides driver training and evaluation to help people secure their licenses. The driving instructors are licensed through ICBC under the motor vehicle act and are certified to teach in the classroom and in the car. The program works by sending instructors to meet with students for training before they go into a larger centre and take the test.
In January, the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training gave an initial $80,000 to increase capacity for the driving school to engage 200 people from 13 First Nation communities across six towns. The additional funding announced today means another 800 people will have access to the program.
“The demand has been overwhelming. In Indigenous communities, what we’ve seen especially along Highway 16 is only about five to 45 per cent of people actually have a license — which means up to 95 per cent of people don’t have a license,” Sager says. “It’s not about just going to work. It’s about safety. Not only is it about the Highway of Tears, it’s about fleeing forest fires. When people can’t drive, they can’t leave.”
All Nations Driving Academy has received a number of awards since it began, including recognition from the Skeena-Nass Centre for Innovation in Resource Economics (SNCIRE), and ThriveNorth Business Challenge.
The academy also encourages communities to own and operate their own driving schools. The Haisla Driving School in Kitimat was opened with help from the program, and Sager says the academy is working with Burns Lake Native Development Corporation to open a school there.