The first class of Nakoda Sioux carpenters turned the sod on what will be the site of a new trade school at the border of their reserve between Banff and Calgary.
The Southern Alberta Institute of Native Technology will function as a satellite of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and is being funded by the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education and Career Development.
Faced with the same 20 per cent cut in providing funding as the rest of Alberta's educational facilities, SAIT has expanded its satellite network to the point where it makes a profit of about $14 million a year. The Stoney reserve is tapping its own revenues, especially housing aid from the federal government at first, to pay SAIT to grow the new branch, intended to mature into a Native counterpart of the SAIT.
Chief Ernest Wesley called the initiative "nationhood education," and described the technical school as part of "a nation within a nation." emerging as reserves reach for economic independence and self-rule.
The deal with SAIT stresses job as well as training. The agreement commits all sides to cut "leakage" by training Natives to take over work that has long gone mostly to outsiders.
The new program starts with construction trades because students can rapidly pick up new skills to start replacing outside contractors who do an estimated $5 million worth of work a year on the Stoney reserve.
Plans for expansion call for training and apprenticeship in fields from cooking to hairdressing, to let Natives also take over growing tourism, hospitality and convention services across the reserve in the scenic foothills of the Rockies.
(Reprinted with permission from Native Issues Monthly, a Vancouver-based research report on Native affairs and issues.)