Employees of the Laxgalts’ap Village Government in the Nass Valley recently completed an extensive two-year exercise in developing peer counselling abilities.
The training was the result of a Nisga’a initiative to bring in a tailor-made counselling program to assist community members in their personal and professional lives.
It came at the request of Phyllis Clark who wanted to adapt a program she attended at the University of British Columbia school of continuing studies to meet the unique needs of a self-governing community.
“Part of the success was the instructors coming here to see who we are as a community and the successes and the challenges that we face so that they can help us plan for what is our next step,” Clark explained.
Facilitators from the school flew in to offer 150 hours of training over two years which resulted in 10 members graduating with a full peer counselling certificate and a further 20 completing the first module.
Clark said that employees from all sections of government were encouraged to take the training which focused on self-reflection and understanding others.
“Personally, you’re learning new ways of communicating and understanding of human behaviour so that, in turn, you’re able to realize it could help you in your job, regardless of which job you are in,” she said of the program.
“The intent is to do that with a lot more clarity, with open eyes and open-hearted to realize that there are people who have different circumstances,” she added.
And there is an important reason why the Nisga’a are looking for ways to empower community members with these new skills.
Following the self-governing treaty signed in 2000, it is necessary that government workers develop the confidence and communication to interact with their clients who are also their friends, family and neighbours, Clark explained.
“In a sense the treaty is pretty much a new start for us,” she noted. “The potential to have a positive start that reflects on our treaty is to build on our skills to better understand how we make this beneficial for our people and help others grow with us.”
The program draws on using some basic counselling skills in everyday interactions, explained facilitator Sally Halliday who visited Laxgalts’ap regularly to teach the program.
“They don’t end up treating people, but it’s about understanding for themselves how people change, group dynamics,” she said.
The first module focused on self-development and basic counselling skills such as empathy while the second module of the program included conflict resolution and assisting people through change, she noted.
As Halliday was not familiar with the community, she said a part of the program was also finding skills that worked for Nisga’a members.
Now Clark hopes that the government will see the training make a difference in the work of its employees.
“Everyday we’re coming into contact with individuals and as a manager here you’re normally hearing if a client isn’t happy with a decision so how do we change that?” she questioned.
“It’s pretty much measured on an individual basis with clients. They need to feel that they are valued.”
With the number of graduates who stuck with the program over the years, Clark said she is ready to start discussions with the university to open up the program to even more Nisga’a members.