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Building a Prosperous Future:
An education investment in aboriginal students

Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre
Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)
Calgary, Alberta

Monday, September 23, 2002

Irene, thank you for the warm introduction…and for the invitation to participate in today's first anniversary celebration of the Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre. I'm delighted to be here - in Blackfoot Territory - and to be speaking to you about the all-important investment in post-secondary education - or what I often refer to as building a prosperous future.

However before we get started, I would like to single out another anniversary, as yesterday, September 22, 2002, marked the 125th anniversary of the signing of Treaty Number 7. I understand the Siksika Nation hosted a weeklong series of commemorative events at Blackfoot Crossing where the Treaty document was on display. The making of Treaty Number 7 was a milestone event in western Canadian history. "For the first time, the 50,000 square miles of virgin prairie and foothills, controlled by the Nation, were opened to the settlers' plow. The names of those involved in Treaty Number 7 are legendary: names such as Crowfoot, Red Crow, Bull Head, Bear's Paw, Sitting on an Eagle Tail, Col. James F. MacLeod and many others."

So this afternoon, there's much reason to celebrate in Calgary…and about Calgary. Just last week, Advanced Technology Business leaders at the Calgary TechAction Town Hall meeting said, "Calgary has established itself as a globally advanced technology center." John Maduri, of TELUS, stated, "Calgary is characterized by its collaborative spirit. Overall, this city has what it takes to make it and is poised for growth and prosperity." I was particularly interested in this event because of its formula for prosperity message and its focus on education/training to manage challenges in this city's high-tech sector.

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) immediately came to mind in terms of innovation and relevant, skill-oriented education. The record speaks for itself…from awarding significant dollars in scholarships/bursaries and staging the largest fundraising campaign by a technical institute in Canada, to amazing 2001 stats: "96% of graduates were employed within nine months; 79% employed in training related careers; 93% of graduates are satisfied with their educational experience at SAIT and 97% of employers are satisfied with the quality of SAIT's graduates", it's clear that an investment in SAIT is sound education business.

And SAIT knows better than to go it alone - it makes partnerships - aboriginal partnerships a priority. First Nations Employment/Training Centre, the Indian Resource Council of Canada, Little Red River Cree First Nation, Maskwachees Cultural College, Blood Tribe, Louis Bull Band, Metis Nation of Alberta Zone III, Samson Cree Nation, Siksika Nation and Stoney Tribe, know what I mean…as does the Calgary Aboriginal Post-Secondary Council, the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Provincial Network, the Calgary Aboriginal Information Exchange, the Calgary Aboriginal Professional Association and of course, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. Talk about leadership at work when it comes to education and training…

There's a critically important and timely trend in Canada's post secondary institutions (with partners in government, the private sector and community organizations) to put active support mechanisms in place for aboriginal students - to help build a more civic society - and a more prosperous future. "53% of the Aboriginal population in Canada is under the age 25. The aboriginal labour force is now younger than ever before. Aboriginal people will require more training, education, and work experience, to prepare them for future employment opportunities that increasingly require highly skilled individuals as part of the knowledge economy."
And access to education and training is key, as access is more than offering programs and training facilities. Access is providing fair and equitable opportunities for young aboriginal students in Calgary, in Alberta and in Canada. However, it's a two way street. It takes some time and energy to apply for funding (no what the source), not to mention scholarships and bursaries. Apparently many scholarships and bursaries for aboriginal students go unclaimed, as they're aren't sufficient applications!

When I look around the Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre, I think about opportunities for aboriginal "learners and partners". I especially think about TransCanada and now BP Canada Energy; their support of this Centre - their investment in education and aboriginal students - is also nothing less than leadership at work…

Viola Tanner-McLure mentioned that the Chinook Centre sign was designed using a replica petroglyph from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park - one that represents transformation…that Chinook Lodge is a place to help aboriginal students make the transformation into the workplace as an accredited individual. I'm delighted to see that the Lodge also incorporates elements of aboriginal culture, with circular and flowing design based on the medicine wheel concept.

I'm also impressed with the offices for the First Nations Student Association, the various places to study and aboriginal resource information about awards, scholarships and bursaries. The Elders' area is a marvelous concept - one that enables interaction with students and staff alike in a cultural and supportive manner. I'm sure the Welcome Circles are a great success and that the cultural programs, including talking/healing circles and workshops on the medicine wheel are equally popular.

I can only echo the words of Irene Lewis, "SAIT is committed to providing a learning environment of the highest quality…nearly 90% of the Aboriginal programs SAIT delivers are delivered directly in the community. With the establishment of Chinook Lodge, we hope that aboriginal learners will be encouraged to come and finish their education on SAIT's campus."

Because the future lies with our youth, RBC Financial Group is also committed to ensuring that Canada's young people have opportunities to grow, learn and contribute to their communities. We strongly support a range of initiatives with a focus on youth and education…

For the eighth consecutive year, five aboriginal students attending Canadian universities and colleges have been recognized through RBC's Native Student Awards Program. Each student receives an annual scholarship of $4,000 re educational expenses for a maximum of four years at university or two years at college. Inuit and Métis students, as well as status or non-status aboriginal Canadians are eligible to apply. An independent committee of academics from the aboriginal community reviews all applications and makes its final selection of winners based on each student's personal and academic achievements, as well as individual financial need. In addition, recipients who indicate an interest in pursuing a career in the financial services industry are considered for summer and post-graduate employment opportunities at RBC Financial Group. We're pleased to see that Cheryle Chagnon is here today, one of our 1996/97 recipients, and to hear that she's now working with the National Aboriginal Health Organization.
In addition to the Native Student Awards Program, RBC also supports aboriginal students in Alberta through initiatives and organizations, including:

  • The RBC Royal Eagle Award. Since 1998, the RBC Foundation has granted awards in the amount of $1,000 annually to an aboriginal student completing an undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary. Aboriginal students can apply for the award through the Native Centre and selection is based strictly on academic merit. The recipient is also recognized on a crystal sculpted Eagle trophy, to mark the significant accomplishments of individuals within the aboriginal community;
  • The RBC Aboriginal Stay-in-School Program. RBC offers aboriginal high school students a chance to earn and learn during the summer. We believe that the more young people know about the business world, the more motivated they will be to obtain the education required to succeed in the workplace.
  • SAIT, the Native Friendship Centres, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women…and CAREERS: The Next Generation Foundation - hands-on learning for Alberta's high school students.

At RBC, we believe that our success as a company is connected to investing in the economic and social well-being of our community and our country. It's something we know we must do as an essential part of our relationships with our stakeholders, and as a strategic investment in the future prosperity of our society. Investing in post-secondary education for aboriginal students - for all Canadians - is one of the most important investments RBC Financial Group will ever make in communities across the country.

Thank you for inviting my RBC colleagues, Keith MacDonald, Doug Bourque, Helena Gottschling, Wafa Kadri, not to mention a former banker who shares the Coffey name (my brother Mike) and me, to share in this exciting event. We're proud to be here.

Finally, as I look around the room, I know our collective investment in aboriginal students is paying off in huge dividends. There are many success stories here today. Congratulations to the Chinook Centre on this first anniversary - to Irene Lewis, Dean Patrick Martens and the entire SAIT team for leading the way. Special thanks to Viola Tanner-McLure for coordinating this event - well done!

And to every "education investor" in the room, let's help get more investors on side. To every graduate student in the room, tell your story to your friends - spread the news about the value of a post secondary education and encourage them to apply for scholarships, awards and bursaries. And to every aboriginal student in this room, make the most of the Chinook Lodge Aboriginal Resource Centre - invest in yourself and in your prosperous future!

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