Government jobs exclude First Nations

Bonnie Harpe was hit by full milk cartons, punched, threatened with filed-down toothbrushes, slapped and sprayed with a fire extinguisher.

Bonnie Harpe was hit by full milk cartons, punched, threatened with filed-down toothbrushes, slapped and sprayed with a fire extinguisher.

It was all in a day’s work.

For six years, the Ta’an Kwach’an member worked at Whitehorse group homes.

“It was a nightmare,” she said, standing outside the legislative assembly on Monday.

Harpe finally quit her job.

But she didn’t leave because of the abuse.

After six years, she’d applied for a promotion.

A team-leader position had opened up. Harpe fit the bill.

“I had worked in lock-up in Alberta and at other group homes — I had lots of experience,” she said.

But the position went to a candidate who’d just arrived from Alberta.

“I didn’t get the job because I’m aboriginal,” said Harpe.

She was ready to quit when the government came back with a proposal.

Harpe was offered a position as co-ordinator of First Nations cultural events at the group home.

She declined.

It was an insult, said Harpe.

“I didn’t want to be the token Indian.”

Harpe soon learned her experience wasn’t unique.

There are more than 4,000 government employees in the territory.

And only 7.3 per cent of them are Yukon First Nations people, according to the 2006 Government Workforce Census.

“Given the fact that 23 per cent of the population is First Nations, it is obvious that they are under represented in the public service,” said Liberal MLA Eric Fairclough during Monday’s question period.

After leaving the group home, Harpe applied for a number of government jobs.

So far, she’s had no luck.

“First Nations people are not treated well during interviews,” she said.

Susan (not her real name) was no exception.

On May 11th, the First Nations woman was screened for a government interview through Community Services.

It was an office assistant job.

Susan asked if she should brush up on her Excel skills, but was told not to bother because the office used Microsoft Word.

When she arrived for the interview, Susan was given a written test that included an Excel exercise.

“That really threw me,” she said.

Shaken, Susan proceeded to the oral interview.

During that process, the born-and-raised Yukoner was shown a map and told to identify a specific lake and Hard Rock Mountain.

She found the lake.

But after looking for a couple of minutes, she told her interviewers she couldn’t locate the peak. She’d never heard of it.

Susan was informed that if she didn’t find the mountain she would be disqualified from the competition.

“I was shocked,” she said.

“The job description was for an administrative assistant whose job was to answer phones, not read maps.”

Susan eventually found the mountain.

At the end of the interview, they looked over Susan’s references.

“I provided two of them, even though it wasn’t required,” she said.

Susan was asked if her references had been employers, even though this was clearly stated.

“Then they asked when I worked there, as if I was making it up,” she said.

The interviewer also asked Susan for the name of her present employer.

“I hadn’t put that down because I didn’t want them to know I was applying for a different job,” she said.

The interviewer told Susan she was required to ask about her current employer.

Susan found the whole experience intimidating.

“I was treated like hell,” she said.

“This is the kind of experience that prevents our First Nations citizens from competing for jobs.

“It’s no wonder there aren’t many First Nations working in the Yukon territorial government.”

Susan takes the bus every morning with a woman who works at Superstore.

The ladies often chat, and Susan learned the woman has just been given auxiliary clerical work at the Public Service Commission.

“She has no clerical skills,” said Susan.

“But she has a friend there.”

The woman is not First Nations, added Susan.

“This stuff has to stop.”

After her terrible interview experience, Susan wrote a letter to Community Services Minister Glenn Hart.

“Staffing policies and procedures are established in accordance with the Public Service Act,” wrote Hart in response.

“I do encourage you to seek post-interview debriefing with the chair of the competition board.

“The Public Service Commission offers public information sessions on the staffing process to assist potential candidates to understand the procedures and initiatives such as preferenced hiring for First Nations, communities, local hire, or disabilities.”

But Susan already understood hiring procedures.

And she knew the interviewer had no right to ask for her current employer — a fact that she affirmed by talking with the ombudsman.

“Never in all my years have I ever been treated so disrespectfully by anyone,” said Susan.

This week, a new job has opened up within Community Services.

Susan wants to apply, but discovered the same woman will be conducting the interviews.

So she wrote an e-mail expressing her concern to the department’s director of human resources.

“Please rest assured that your rating on one job competition will have no bearing at all on any future competitions you wish to apply on,” wrote the director, Ellen Zimmerman.

“Each competition has its own set of qualifications, questions and marking.

“The boardmembers are trained to ensure that all candidates are treated in the same manner on a competition and asked the same questions for objective decisions.”

Susan doesn’t plan to apply for the job.

 Harpe has had family members apply for government jobs.

Many were turned down, she said.

But some were offered spots in training programs.

It doesn’t make sense, said Harpe.

“Why do First Nations who have gone through university need to go into training programs when other applicants don’t?

“It’s almost like the government has a quota they have to meet with these programs.”

“The (Yukon Party) says how well it works with First Nations,” said Fairclough.

“But you don’t see that reflected with employees in government.

“If you go through department by department you will struggle to find a First Nations person working there.”

During Monday’s question period, Fairclough asked acting Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor if any of the Yukon government’s deputy ministers are First Nations.

Taylor didn’t want to get “ into any particular specifics.”

“Our government has been employing a number of various initiatives to attract and retain a more diverse workforce that is representative of the public service we represent,” she said, mentioning the Workplace Diversity Employment Office and the First Nations Training Corps.