Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
At age 28, Carling Sioui has two university degrees and is four months into the start up of her own company.
It hasn’t been an easy journey through post-secondary and transitioning into a new career, she readily admits, and there were times she considered quitting.
Sioui’s voice and experiences are among those that inform “Voices of Indigenous youth leaders: Bridging study and work for long-term success.” It’s the second volume from the Deloitte Future of Canada Centre.
The aim of the centre is to examine new ideas, viewpoints, and insights into Canada’s most pressing national issues and to move the country forward in growth and competitiveness.
This report looks at the barriers facing Indigenous youth as they work their way to success. The report offers nine recommendations, three each in the categories of “negotiating the post-secondary education path,” “transitioning from education to career,” and “pursuing a career journey.”
First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth are graduating from post-secondary education at higher numbers and participating in the labour force at a rate comparable to their non-Indigenous counterparts.
“But progress remains slow going: these young people continue to face systemic barriers on their path to academic and career success,” reads the 34-page report released earlier this month.
The recommendations aim to break down those barriers. They range from making learning environments more inclusive and enhancing student supports to creating more welcoming recruitment experiences. They suggest offering placements tailored to Indigenous students, fostering Indigenous-friendly workplaces and offering development opportunities.
The recommendations in the report come from youth, ages 18 to 29 years, who were at the 2022 Indigenous Youth Advocacy Week organized by the Canadian Roots Exchange. Four of the youth, including Sioui, participated in follow-up interviews.
The young people’s recommendations were supplemented and validated with secondary sources, such as academic publications and aggregated data sets from Statistics Canada.
Sioui lives in Montreal and is a member of the Huron-Wendat First Nation. She says it was an important opportunity to add her voice to the report as an Indigenous urban person, an advocate, and someone with lived experience.
“Something that I faced was isolation, being the only Indigenous person in my (university) program,” said Sioui, who completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in landscape architecture at the University of Montreal.
“What that does to a person is…it makes you feel sometimes like an imposter. It makes you feel like you don't belong. And that creates an extra weight…when you don't feel represented in the program that you're studying,” she said.
After doing an exchange program at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, she returned to Munich to complete her Master’s degree in 2022.
“I wrote my thesis on Indigenous collaborations in design and the Indigenous perspective, so from that I was able to create a methodology and how we can create culturally-safe ways of collaborating in design, which is not very known,” said Sioui.
The report recommends a more inclusive learning environment in universities by “bringing in more Indigenous knowledge and ways of learning into the classroom.”
Sioui said the system is often difficult to navigate as it is “very hierarchical, very specific in the way that they work.”
“It's hard when you have already a lot on your shoulders and you have to always abide by specific rules,” said Sioui.
The workplace also presented challenges as she sometimes found she “didn't have the courage to be 100 per cent authentic…because of a fear of maybe rejection or resistance or even having to explain myself.”
That also resulted in feeling as if she didn’t belong.
The report calls for workplace staff to take cultural sensitivity training, as well as for the workplace to create unique spaces that honour the Indigenous nations and culture in that territory.
Whether in academia or the business world, said Sioui, “If they don't have that awareness, it puts an extra burden on to you. It's very tiring,” she said of the added weight on mental well being.
It’s tiring, she explains, to always be the “Indigenous representative” at school, in the workplace or at public events or to have to battle the prejudice of negative stereotypes.
Sioui has worked with a number of eco-friendly organizations and has done an internship with the city of Montreal. After graduating from university, she began working at a firm. But when she started getting demands for her participatory design, something the firm wasn’t doing, she decided to strike out on her own.
“I’m new in the field of design for landscape architecture specifically, but I'm using my experience in all of the organizations to be a coach in collaboration,” she said.
Navigating this new venture, including looking for funding, hasn’t been easy and Sioui says she could use the help of a mentor, another recommendation that is included in the report as meaningful professional development.
“It's important to have people that are going to sit down with you and explain things to you, and really take the time to make you understand all of the opportunities that you have, all of the possible hurdles you could have,” said Sioui.
She firmly believes that if she had a mentor when she was in university, she would have finished her studies sooner.
The report calls for enhancing students supports and making them more accessible.
“And not students as mentors necessarily (but) people that are trained for that, whether Indigenous or not…but people who are sensitized and understand and can help us dream,” she said.
During her bachelor’s degree Sioui wanted to switch programs, but one of her professor’s made her believe in what she was pursuing. Another professor encouraged her to go to Munich on the exchange program and helped her work through that process.
“A lot of us don’t understand how valuable we are and how many opportunities we have and how capable we are of doing things and getting them done and making our dreams come true. Because there's so much that is thrown at us every single day that it becomes very difficult to just dream,” said Sioui, “and sometimes you need someone to say it to you.”
From her own experiences, Sioui’s advice to Indigenous youth starting post-secondary is to not be afraid to ask for help and to look for resources.
The best advice she’s been given is to remember that there are times when “eight on 10 (effort) is enough. You don’t have to be 10 on 10” all the time.
“But keep pushing through,” she said. “Keep believing in yourself.”
Sioui is confident that the future is bright for her as she gets her new business off the ground.
“It took a while before I could believe that. I grew up with a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear and therapy has helped me regain that confidence and heal a lot of intergenerational wounds before being able to have that hope,” she said.
And from her own experiences in academia and along the career path, Sioui believes changes are happening now that are breaking down some of the barriers Indigenous youth face.
But it’s a long process, she says, and it will involve educating non-Indigenous people already in the workforce “on who we are in all of our most beautiful aspects and also on the oppressive aspects. I think that's going to be extremely important. And yes, there's a lot of work to be done, but it's not impossible. I think people should not be afraid of the work.”
It's that work that Deloitte’s new report is advancing.
“We encourage decision-makers to examine the progress of their reconciliation work in a manner that is informed by the experience of young Indigenous Peoples and, ultimately, ensure their efforts have truly positive impacts,” the report says.
To read the full report go to https://www2.deloitte.com/ca/en/pages/future-of-canada-center/articles/…
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.