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Carcross leaders want to curb social assistance use

With luck, the next generation will grow up not knowing what social assistance is, says the deputy chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. "We don't want to keep doing the same thing," says Danny Cresswell.

With luck, the next generation will grow up not knowing what social assistance is, says the deputy chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

“We don’t want to keep doing the same thing,” says Danny Cresswell. “If nothing changes, nothing changes, and then your SA budget starts going through the roof. That’s not what we want for our people, we want something better.

“We have to start working on a change. We have to start somewhere.”

That “somewhere” is being called the transitional employment program.

Basically, the money that normally goes towards the First Nation’s social assistance cheques - from their financial transfer agreements with Ottawa - is now going towards wages for participants in this program.

Currently, it is only unskilled labour.

For example, 78 junk cars and 20 dump truck loads have been cleaned out of the community by these workers, says Cresswell. And there are plans to take care of a few old, abandoned buildings as well.

The idea is to help people develop employment skills, like simply showing up, on time, everyday, he says.

The program is still in its early stages and gets developed more and more as time goes on, says Nina Bolton, director of health and wellness for the First Nation’s government, mentioning there are a lot of ideas of how and where the program can expand. This includes adding in more skilled work, like the trades.

Currently, the work comes with counseling from an outreach worker, she says.

“A lot of our young people are on TFA - TFA being temporary financial assistance. And that’s what it’s meant for, to be a temporary thing, not a permanent thing where they become reliant upon it,” she says.

There is definite incentive.

The workers are getting an hourly wage, she says.

The monthly temporary financial assistance cheques are just below $300, which would be the equivalent of getting paid only $4/hour, she says.

“Once we become self-sustaining, then our pride and self-image, self-worth and self-confidence all rises. And that’s what we want to build with our nation, that pride within our-selves.”

The amount of drinking that happens on the temporary financial assistance payday is also frustrating, says Bolton.

“It’s discouraging when we see there is a need there and the funds are not being utilized properly,” she says. “But that’s not everybody. That’s a minimal amount of the group.”

Of the First Nation’s 300 local citizens, about one third rely on temporary financial assistance, says Bolton. They are largely young, employable people.

The transitional employment program has been running since the summer and the number of participants varies, she says, as some people have been intermittent, have moved on or have quit.

She estimates around 20 to 30 people have taken advantage of the program so far, however the First Nation government recently sent out a letter outlining the budget woes and “encouraging” a lot more people to get involved.

When asked whether anyone was being forced off financial assistance, Bolton replied, “not necessarily.”

“We haven’t just cut them off, we’re having more discrepancies in talking with them, as to what their need is,” she says. “And we tried to be positive in getting their input,” adding they plan on having regular meetings with the community to keep strong communication because, “people need to be heard, and we want to hear them.”

Elders and people with special needs, like disabilities, are not included in this initiative.

A major force behind this has been the young people, says Cresswell.

Nearly 40 per cent of Carcross/Tagish First Nation students drop out before high school, and if they do make it, at least 50 per cent drop out while in high school, he says.

“It’s creating the volition to want to go from SA to work and permanent employment or school, training of some kind so that they can look at permanent employment,” he says adding that it can be done.

Cresswell failed Grade 8. Twice. Eventually, he says, he went and took college prep courses and went to college for two years.

“It’s a work in progress and, of course, there’s always going to be some push back,” he says. “People are used to the same thing and their lives revolve around it. We need it to revolve around something else.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at