For Indigenous students hoping to attend post-secondary school, it can often mean having to leave their home community along with their family, friends and support systems.
One college in Manitoba is changing that by hitting the road and bringing the classroom to the community.
For the past seven months, 12 students in Sagkeeng First Nation have been training for a career in plumbing in one of the two mobile labs set up in the community located 120 km north of Winnipeg.
Red River College, based in Winnipeg but has campuses across the province, runs the two mobile training labs. The labs were started as a way to provide trades training to rural and northern communities in Manitoba.
This is the first time the college has offered the plumbing certificate program through the mobile training labs.
“The first few months were basically [learning] the material. Then the practical stuff came in December, and from then on after that, it just zoomed by,” said Ryan Mazerolle, 32, a student in the program.
After working what he calls ‘dead-end’ jobs the former security guard decided to enroll in the program. A move he says he would do again if given the chance.
Among the 12 students in the classroom Shania Dorie, 22, is the only woman. She says the decision to join a mostly male-dominated industry came with some help from her mother.
“My mom is kind of into this hands on stuff, and it kind of inspired me to do that stuff too,” said Dorie.
The training labs consist of a 53-foot trailer, which can slide out and transform into a 950 square foot training space. The labs have been used in other communities including Pinaymootang First Nation and Fisher River Cree Nation.
For many of the students the opportunity to pursue education right in the community has allowed them a second chance at life.
Nevin Cook was living in Winnipeg before moving back home to Sagkeeng. The 25-year-old found himself going down a path which could lead him to jail. He knew he had to make a change.
“Ever since I started taking this program I’ve been keeping my nose clean and staying out of trouble. I’m almost already done with my probation,” said Cook.
“This program has really help me grow.”
And it’s not just the students who are getting another shot. Mike Vallee relocated to Manitoba last fall to teach the class. The plumber had previously taught courses in plumbing in Alberta.
“I didn’t know if I really wanted to teach again. But, since I’ve been here it’s been like a second chance for me, and that’s what really got me going,” said Vallee.
He says building relationships with the students and the community has been a rewarding experience.
“My students know if they want help for any reason they can call me,” said Vallee.
For Cook the feeling is mutual.
“This Frenchman, you know, just comes into the rez and showed me a different way.”