Kymowyn Sugar. Indigenous skills training program facilitator

Imagine having a communications department inspired by the art of traditional oral storytelling and at the same time, guarantee the concepts of Truth and Reconciliation become more than mere buzzwords.

A Calgary business communications innovation is being launched just ahead of The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation that promises to do just that and so much more.

“We’ve thought long and hard about how to both make talented Indigenous professionals feel like we actually belong in so-called more Western industrial spaces of business and at the same time enhance those spaces with what we bring,” says Kymowyn Sugar, the Indigenous Skills Training Program facilitator at Calgary’s Momentum, where a new communications training program is being launched this month.

The Digital Dreamers (Pa’ pai tapiiksi) Training Program is a 26-week intensive communications program for Indigenous professionals covering an introduction to all aspects of communication with a focus on digital marketing, creative and promotional copywriting, social media management, understanding analytics, and web design. The program is being offered in collaboration with SAIT. The course will include in-class learning, applied-skills training at SAIT and hands-on work experience with an employer host, all guided by elders and traditional knowledge keepers.

“We hear so much about Truth and Reconciliation and unique barriers,” reflects Sugar. “We’re at a time when Western business culture wants to get on board but unless it’s really coming from executive leadership and boards, and unless it has substance to it and works for both parties, it really doesn’t inspire change.”

What an actual inspired plan of Truth and Reconciliation for each corporation looks like will inevitably differ, but as an example, non-Indigenous organizations including Momentum include in their modus operandi a significant investment in thought leadership, planning and executing a policy that guarantees measurable change and evolution away from an outdated model of business.

“At our place of work, the entire board and leadership are proactive in our policy, and that strategy is 40 pages long and written into our pillars and includes countless efforts in line with the concepts around Truth and Reconciliation. It paints a picture of what really prevents a lot of Indigenous people from becoming successful in a Western society. And Momentum isn’t what one would call an ‘Indigenous company,’ it’s just the new way of doing business for companies who are serious and committed to it – it has to be from the top down and comprehensive with measurable outcomes.” 

Momentum is a non-profit educational business created 31 years ago, which has partnered with SAIT since its inception with a goal of launching careers relevant to the needs and demands of the local economy. In its three decades, the organization has broadened far beyond trade-focussed training to include entrepreneurial guidance, training and support through micro loans, financial empowerment guidance, youth home ownership, and a significant enhancement in tech-related training.

Sugar, a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree Woman) from the Piapot First Nation in the Treaty 4 Territory, was hired this spring as part of Momentum’s commitment to making sure all courses aimed at Indigenous professionals are accurately reflective of the rich cultural landscape of the province’s heritage.

Along with the fundamentals of business communication, the Digital Dreamers course includes elements such as daily sharing circles, smudging, access to elders, all designed to give students a sense of belonging and support throughout their training.

Pa’ pai tapiiksi means Dream Beings in Blackfoot, and Sugar says she’s overcome enough barriers in her own journey to have developed the inner musculature of strength in order to empower others to transform their dreams into reality.

Sugar says the 26-week intensive study will give Indigenous professionals the skills they need to break into the communications market. At the same time, it will answer the call of local employers who have expressed interest or are on a journey of creating a work environment informed by the true spirit of reconciliation.

The art and history of oral storytelling at the very heart of effective any inspired communications platform is one of the strengths of ancestral culture and Sugar believes the intensive-study program will open doors to positive collaborations across the industry.

“I see this as a collaborative effort. Indigenous professionals will gain the skills and talent to access their industry of choice, and business communicators in the community will be able to enrich their programs with a nod to those traditions of the history or oral story-telling in this part of the world. I see that as an exciting partnership.”

A team of employment facilitators collaborate between the students and potential employers interested in placements during and potentially after the duration of the program.

Sugar says the program allows for the enrolment of 14 students to be trained and assisted in finding communications employment at the completion of the course. Companies who want to broaden their communications platform and get involved can call Momentum and speak to the employment facilitation team.


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