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"I'm making a wiser choice now," says Joan Peigan, who has returned to school to learn a new career after 11 years as a homemaker.
She radiates quiet confidence today, unlike the picture she paints of herself as an 18-year-old Native student in Saskatoon, alone and somewhat intimidated by the city.
"In those days after finishing high school, we had to leave home to continue our education or training. Now that's changing. Satellite programs from the university and community colleges are now reaching out to our communities."
Currently enrolled in a business administration program at Gabriel Dumont Institute in Fort Qu'Appelle, she is pleased to be training in a field which previously wasn't an option for her.
"Twenty years ago, I trained as a certified nursing assistant in Saskatoon, but didn't have my heart in it. Coming from the reserve I couldn't really make a proper career choice since we didn't know what was available," Peigan reflects. "But as I tell my children where there's a will, there's a way."
For Peigan, the way has turned out to be the Touchwood File Hills Qu'Appelle District Chiefs Council which represents 16 Indian bands in the surrounding area of Fort Qu'Appelle. In 1985, the council offered her a job as a community resource worker to undertake a survey of educational and employment needs of the Natives on the reserves. She interviewed families to determine their sizes, the age of family members, educational levels and training needs.
"This provided band leaders with the necessary data to develop proposals and to help negotiate with local business," she adds. "It's information that's necessary as we move towards self-government."
That exposure sparked her interest in finding a new career. "I found I could perform most of the tasks but didn't have the confidence to really do them well. I needed to upgrade my skills."
In November, 1986, she enrolled in business administration at Gabriel Dumont Institute, a Metis community college affiliated with the Saskatchewan Technical Institute in Regina. Peigan's course in business administration is funded through the federal government's Canadian Jobs Strategy program. And she is also able to work part-time at the District Chiefs Council office.
"I'm a treaty Indian, not a Metis, so I'm thankful that they had room for me at Gabriel Dumont. I'm also appreciative that my husband and children have supported me because it's hard getting back to school," she admits.
Once the 18-month compressed course is finished, she hopes to work full-time with the Chiefs Council as an administrator, or to find work in the service or retail industry.
Peigan is optimistic about the growing opportunities in Fort Qu'Appelle for Native people. "It looks exciting with some new developments in the tourist industry. I'm leaving my options open", she says.
She encourages the development of more satellite programs into the rural areas. "Many people on the reserve find it difficult to adjust to the city where they can't find proper housing, or where they feel out of place. There's a great demand for training and employment opportunities on or near the reserves."
"People want to learn in an environment where they're comfortable. That's why it's necessary to have educational and training programs working through Native organizations. We have to learn to survive in our own society and still fit into the larger world."
Peigan sees signs of progress, with Native organizations such as the District Chiefs Council, the Friendship Centre and the Gabriel Dumont Institute taking a more active role in the local community.
"For example, our elders are more involved in the schools and the organizations. We're getting a good support system now."
Peigan says she tells her children that the doors are open for them to be anything they want, provided they work for it.
"We've come a long way. People in town are now more willing to hire Native people, and we're taking a greater role in planning and running our own enterprises. But we can still go a lot farther."