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Taking the Long View on Aboriginal Education

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Between 2001 and 2026 an estimated 600,000 Aboriginal youth will enter the workforce in Canada. For these youth, education is the leading life aspiration and that is true regardless of location, age, or culture. As referenced in the CBC's 8th Fire, "education is the new buffalo" for Aboriginal people.

As the youth who complete secondary and post secondary education begin to enter the workforce, we need to build inroads for them to be supported along their leadership journey. It is my belief that investments in Aboriginal education need to go beyond the classroom and into adult learning to rise the economic tide for all Canadians. This includes supporting our Aboriginal talent and showcasing them as successful examples of where formal education can lead.

I co-founded an organization called the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada. Our aim is to advance Aboriginal leadership across the private, public, and social sectors. With over 350 members nationally, we deliver events and services with a unique focus on gaps faced by Aboriginal professionals. Just like in other communities, providing opportunities for network development, enhancing professional skills and recognizing excellence are all critical supports that Aboriginal professionals need to thrive.

Many of our members are the first in their family or even community to complete post secondary education. They represent a generation of resilient pioneers who have overcome many challenges to simply hold a diploma. All of this with hopes of creating a better life for their family and community.

Leaving them at the end of their formal education and at the beginning of their career with a lack of support to reach the next level is a detriment. Providing increased support for Aboriginal talent will result in better representation around the table for many of the key issues facing the Canadian economy.

In 2012 the Canadian Council for Chief Executives called for "stronger partnerships" with First Nations. I believe having Aboriginal leaders who are executives and board members in the organizations they represent will accelerate these partnerships. It doesn't have to be an issue of having one party on either side of the table, instead we should aim to have representation around all sides.

In our culture, it is often said that it is easier to step where someone else has stepped before you. This rings true for career and leadership development. We need to continue to build pathways for Aboriginal people to develop and succeed in meaningful careers.

Our organization's research shows that awareness of opportunities and access to networks are the two largest challenges facing Aboriginal professionals today. Organizations must work with this talent, ensuring they are supported through their career and are set up for continual success. Mentorship programs and internal employee groups are a common best practice.

Beyond this, we must also establish ways for Aboriginal leaders to continue on their cultural learning journey. Culture and community help build a strong sense of identity, and a strong identity builds a solid leadership foundation. This is what we work towards at the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada.

Human capital is continually pointed at as a competitive advantage in terms of Canada's diversity and cultural richness. Aboriginal people are our country's the fastest growing demographic, it is critical that we think of their education from a long term perspective. The next generation depends on it.

Gabrielle Scrimshaw is a speaker at this year's TEDxToronto conference taking place on September 26 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. For more information on her talk and how you can still participate in this year's event, please visit TEDxToronto.com.