Our partners and youth have taught us that organizations and programs rooted in culture and reconciliation lead to pride in self and culture. Today‘s youth are tomorrow‘s leaders – that‘s why we‘re focused on building stronger connections with Indigenous youth.
Through the Suncor Energy Foundation (SEF), we are supporting our partner organizations working towards innovative solutions for Indigenous communities such as youth engagement, cultural opportunities
It starts with partners who share our vision. Through the SEF strategic funding priority, we believe we can be a catalyst, working with others, and connecting and supporting our communities. Some partners leading change in community include:
- Actua: Inspires youth in Indigenous communities across Canada to see science, technology and math as a potential career path by using connection to culture and communities.
- Banff Centre: Indigenous Leadership programs at Banff Centre provide leaders an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how to establish a strategic direction for their communities and organizations, implement that plan through focused effort, and measure performance.
- Bridges Social Development: Works with Indigenous youth in southern Alberta to find their purpose and voice while developing community leadership opportunities.
- Learning Through the Arts: Works with Indigenous students in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to use arts and culture as tools to understand curriculum and has significantly improved graduation rates in the region.
- Right to Play: Promoting Life Skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program is guided by an Indigenous community development model, PLAY partners work with communities to build capacity through multi-faceted programming, training and one-on-one support of community mentors.
- Student Energy: SevenGen 2019 was the first Indigenous Student Energy Summit which brought together 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth from across Canada to explore how to unite communities, build relationships and break social barriers in the energy conversation.
Supporting development of future Indigenous leaders
Each year, Suncor and the SEF, with community partners, host a variety of initiatives which bring Indigenous youth and Suncor team members together for shared learning and support for youth to discover their leadership skills.
Spaces to share traditional knowledge
In recognition of the start-up of the Fort Hills project, Suncor presented authentic, handmade 18 -foot teepees to five schools in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Traditionally the teepee was the home of nomadic Indigenous Peoples, and it is symbolic of traditional Cree and Dene teachings.
“There was an opportunity to help ‘walking in two worlds’; Indigenous methods and western methods” says Joy Flett an Indigenous and community relations advisor at Suncor. “The teepee creates opportunities for community members, teachers, youth and community partners to engage in meaningful teachings of Indigenous heritage and culture.”
Since oral history is the basis for knowledge to be handed down through generations, the teepee provides a cultural space for Elders to come and talk to youth about medicines and traditions.
Indigenous peoples of the plains use 15 teepee poles to create the structure; each pole having a distinct meaning. These teachings include: obedience, respect, humility, happiness, love, faith, kinship, spiritual cleanliness, thankfulness, sharing, strength, good child rearing, hope and protection.
To ensure the knowledge and teachings would be understood, the youth of the region cut and dried their own teepee poles. “Every time a pole is added, a rope goes around binding that pole into place,” says Joy. “That rope is a sacred bond, binding all the teachings together until they are all connected. This has been a great way for us to share opportunities for traditional knowledge holders to pass down traditions to Indigenous youth.”
In 2018 Suncor again had the opportunity to host a group of Indigenous youth from the Siksika Nation at our office in Calgary.
Each student was paired up with a Suncor employee from the Aboriginal Employee Network, and they spent the day learning from each other. The youth shared details about living in a First Nation community, and Suncor team members reflected on what it takes to be part of the Suncor team.
This initiative was organized by Suncor‘s Indigenous and Community Relations and Human Resources teams, in partnership with Bridges Social Development and the SEF.
Bridges is a non-profit organization founded for the purpose of capacity-building and training for professional and youth leaders in various communities, including First Nation communities like Siksika. The Suncor Energy Foundation has been a supporter of Bridges since 2011.
Indspiring youth and educators
Suncor and the SEF have a long-standing relationship with Indspire, an Indigenous-led registered charity whose vision is to enrich Canada through Indigenous education and by inspiring achievement. This includes a number of scholarships and bursaries supported by Suncor and Petro-Canada.
Since 2003, Suncor has also brought more than 275 Indigenous students to the Indspire awards as part of a multi-day experience called the Indspired Youth Experience.
The youth participants who join us are selected by their communities because they are considered future leaders. In 2018 the Winnipeg trip included visits to the Canadian Human Rights Museum and Red River College, along with the Soaring Indigenous Youth Empowerment Gathering where participants explored post-secondary and career options.
“There were countless connections and memories made on this trip for everyone,” recalls Sheila Innes, general manager of Indigenous and community relations at Suncor. “I came away with many learnings, including a much greater awareness of the challenges, but also the huge possibility and opportunity ahead – for youth, communities, and all of us as Canadians. The future looks bright.”
Suncor and the SEF also support the Indspire National Gathering for Indigenous Education. The annual conference brings together more than 800 educators and community partners from across Canada to take part in a variety of workshops and presentations focused on the success of K-12 Indigenous students.
“Indigenous education is a reciprocal process that includes cultures, traditions, and histories and engages students, staff, parents, and community partners to collaborate for student success,” says Roberta Jamieson, president and CEO of Indspire. “Achieving success in Indigenous education is critical for the future of Canada. The National Gathering is a place where educators and partners can share their experiences and work together to improve the educational outcomes.”
In addition to the conference, participants also take part in the Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Awards. The awards recognize individuals for having innovative and impactful teaching practices, advocating for resources and culturally-based curricula, and helping Indigenous students reach their full potential.
Indigenous Youth Advisory Council
In 2012, Suncor created its first Aboriginal Youth Engagement Strategy. The strategy is focused on addressing the inequities Indigenous youth face.
Building on the strategy, an idea for an Indigenous Youth Advisory Council (IYAC) emerged from discussions with several young Indigenous leaders, including those who had attended previous SEF gatherings and participants from the Indigenous Student Program. The group worked together extensively in 2018 to help create draft terms of reference for the council and how they could work together.
IYAC consists of 10 young leaders between the ages of 18 and 30 from communities near Suncor‘s operations. On February 20, 2019, the IYAC formally opened with a pipe ceremony at the Suncor Energy Centre. IYAC members, Elders from Suncor‘s operating communities and Suncor leaders were all present.
The IYAC is an opportunity for Suncor and Indigenous youth to share, listen, reflect and act on issues of mutual interest that are impacting communities and the lives of Indigenous youth. Aligned with our social goal, it also supports young Indigenous leaders in developing their leadership potential while providing opportunities to participate in the energy system. The IYAC will act as a consultative group for the SEF, Suncor and the VP Aboriginal Forum.
Measuring our progress
In 2018, we measured year-over-year increases in two areas:
- The number of opportunities for youth leadership training and experiences
- The number of opportunities for Suncor employee and youth interactions
We continue to evaluate our measurements to ensure we are driving positive outcomes with respect to supporting Indigenous youth leadership potential. Future years may include further use of storytelling, to demonstrate how we are supporting the progress of Indigenous youth.
Ongoing learnings continue to measure much of this work, which is shared through our engagement with our SEF transformative community partners. We also continue work with our own employees through the Aboriginal Employee Network (AEN), including the AEN ambassador program. The program is designed to create meaningful interactions between ambassadors representing a broad cross-section of our Indigenous employees and youth in schools and communities.