Understanding Indigenous struggles the key to partnerships

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Strong partnerships between the BC Building Trades and Indigenous people in the province depend on understanding the history of Canada and Indigenous struggles from the time of contact with Europeans.

By Corry Anderson-Fennell - BCBT Director of Communications

Chief Clifford White and consultant Brenda Ireland were invited to give a historical account to the delegates attending the March conference.

White, from the Gitxaala Nation (a nation on the North Coast said to be tens of thousands of years old) told the conference delegates that four years ago he was thinking that his community should start its own union. “I wanted to get our people employed and trained up.”

But Ireland recalled telling him, “What are you thinking? Why don’t I introduce you to Jim (Sinclair, former head of the BC Federation of Labour) and Tom (Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades).”

It led to a conversation between the four of them about how First Nations in the North and unions could work together. “We do have Indigenous people in this room,” White said. He asked for a show of hands and half a dozen people raised their hands.

In order to establish a long-term relationship between First Nations and organized labour, awareness of Indigenous history in this country is essential. “It’s important to understand how recent that history is,” he said.

“How many of you had parents?” he asked. He was not making a joke. “I don’t know what it means to have a grandma and grandpa and aunties and uncles — even though our culture is based on that.

“Many of our people are in the prison system. We ask, ‘Why do you keep coming back?’

“They say, ‘Because I don’t know where I belong.’

“Violence in our communities is rampant,” he added, “and we’re trying to stop it to make things better for our children and so our people stop ending up in the penal system. Our children want the same things your children want.”

Ireland said, “We get bogged down in blame, pity, anger, guilt and denial because we have shared, but conflicting, stories. But that weight is distributed differently.”

She talked about Terra Nullius (the colonial position that North America was nobody’s land) and the John A. Macdonald government’s racist policies and actions that resulted in the deaths of thousands of children and elders, effectively wiping out the future and the past. There were differing views of borders and who was Indigenous and eligible for a little financial support.

“Now we get into residential schools,” she said, and further horrors and injustices were noted that have repercussions to this day.

In a later interview, White said, “What we liked (about the building trades unions) was that they put together training packages that meet the labour market and only do training if there is a demand.” First Nations people receive funding for post-secondary education but not trades training.

White said the building trades were able to provide basic training in a 12- week program and job placements that paid $25 per hour. “I’m not in love with unions,” he said. “They still have to prove themselves (and) there’s a lot of work to be done on our end.”

The Gitxaala Nation now offers carpentry, construction craft worker and professional cook training.

For More Information: 

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220

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