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Tips & Training

Trina Maher: ‘Our communities are so rich in terms of resources and creativity’

Reading Time: 7 minutes

At a time when Indigenous communities are also working to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19, external partners in career development must take a creative approach to making connections. Listening is the best place to start. Invite people from the communities you want to support to have conversations. Ask them about their needs and wants. Bring your authentic self to the meeting and recognize that relationship building takes time and patience. Have questions? Find someone within the community who can guide you.

Recognizing local expertise is also vital. Indigenous communities are finding new ways to bring training and resources to students and jobseekers. Consider, what knowledge assets do you have that you can share to support this work? Can you leverage industry connections or facilitate access to services through a “train the trainer” approach? This can help build local capacity, while also empowering communities to adapt resources to meet the needs of the people they serve.

In the video interview below, Trina Maher, President of Bridging Concepts, speaks to CareerWise Editor Lindsay Purchase about engaging in career work with Indigenous communities during COVID-19, nation building and career development trends. Trina will be presenting at CERIC’s Virtual Cannexus21 conference on the topic of “Fostering Positive Indigenous Community Engagement with Purpose.” Learn more about Cannexus, taking place Jan. 25 & 27 and Feb. 1 & 3, 2021, at  

Video transcription follows.

Video transcription:

Lindsay Purchase, Lead, Content, Learning and Development, CERC: Hi, Trina, thanks so much for meeting with me today to talk about career development.

Trina Maher, President, Bridging Concepts: Well, thank you for having me, Lindsay. It’s wonderful to be here and to support the good work that your organization does. So I’m more than happy to participate today.

Lindsay: Well, to start off with, I’m hoping that you can tell me a bit about the work that you do with Bridging Concepts and also how that work has been affected by the pandemic.

Trina: We want to see Indigenous people enjoy meaningful careers across and within Canadian industries and Canadian companies. And so with that broad vision, the company works really on both ends of that bridge, if you will. So on one hand, we specialize in helping Canadian companies and organizations better understand Indigenous culture and how really in a practical sense that culture comes through in how you can recruit and retain Indigenous talent and what you need to do to make that workplace really welcoming and be able to retain that talent.

Then on the other side of that bridge, I spent a lot of time working directly within First Nations communities all across the country and really helping to build that capacity within their own community organizations so that they are better able to look at career coaching in different ways, engage with their youth and help them get ready for the workforce.

So in terms of how that lately has been impacted as we all going through a lot of changes, of course, like many other organizations it’s been shifting into online work where now that the conversations happen on webinars like this and we’re really having to think outside the box of how people are dealing with this pandemic and what their time and availability is to meet and the capacity to meet, which will be some of the things that we’ll talk about.

Lindsay: And so you mentioned that a lot of your work is going virtual of course, and that’s really important in this context of you’re working with career development agencies and practitioners to help them engage in career work with Indigenous communities in a respectful and effective way. So what would be your advice on building partnerships and community during this largely virtual time?

Trina: I think the first thing I would say is have patience and I think also understanding that a lot of Indigenous communities – and I don’t want to generalize here – but we also understand that there might be some greater needs for access to technology. That transition of working from home, just like other organizations, it takes time to adapt to that environment and to work well in that environment. So I think for some of the organizations who – we all had that flow, if you will, of going out to a community and participating in programs in person. Now, we have to rethink and how do we do that online? And I think first of all, a lot of it is ask the community what they need and where they’re at and be patient because they’re also adapting and making changes.

Trina: So in some First Nations, like I’m from a member of Mattagami First Nation in Northern Ontario and mine and other communities, our borders have been close to protect the safety of our elders and the people living there. So we’re reaching out, we’re using technology. And I think the other thing that you can do around building those partnerships virtually is host these kinds of conversations, invite people just to have a conversation with you through these kinds of webinars and things, because it’s still relationship building and it’s going to take time. And so I think that’s really important as well, is the patience and bring your authentic self to the meetings just as you would in person.

And when you’re not sure about something, the key thing I’ve always said for many years when I get asked this question is find someone in the community who can guide you, who can be that community contact, and then ask them that question, build that relationship so that they can be your coach and your mentor, because I think the other thing that we need to recognize, and we always talk about this in a lot of the workshops I do, is the beauty of the diversity across First Nations communities; each community has its own story, ways of doing things. And they’re now finding out what are the new ways that they’re going to do things with this time that we find ourselves in. So they’re also coming up with new ways of engaging and having meetings and bringing training and resources into their community. It’s finding out what those changes are and being patient and working within their timelines as well.

Lindsay: So with engaging with communities across Canada in more virtual ways, we do see opportunities to broaden access to career development. But at the same time, there are many places in this country that don’t have good access to broadband. How do you navigate those challenges and what do you think we need to build a more equitable system?

Trina: Well, I think it’s going to be a combination of things really. It’s going to be understanding again that the timeline of where the communities are at that maybe are having those particular challenges and finding ways to be innovative, and sometimes it could be, as we say, going old school, mailing out some workbooks and getting people around a table. And I think at this time, the biggest opportunity is becoming an ally with our communities and empowering people who are already there living within the communities to take our programs that we all offer and teach them how to deliver it. That’s what I’ve done for many, many years. And I find that that’s the biggest gift is empowering others in the communities who can learn these resources and then they can deliver it within their communities because then they can adapt it. And I think that’s one of the biggest ways that we can support in this time of this distance.

And I think it’s also being creative. I mean, one of the projects I’m working on right now, we’re sharing information, rather technical information with the community. So we’re creating it around a storyboard and we’re creating an animation, and then they’re going to take that animation and they’re going to share that with the community and with the elders through many different ways. And we really let the community tell us what they want to do and how they want to learn that information. So again, it’s taking direction from the community and understanding what their new protocols and ways of working are going to be.

Lindsay: It sounds like recognizing local expertise, and then kind of combining that with the train, the trainer approach is something that can be really effective.

Trina: I think so because our communities are so rich in terms of resources and creativity and knowledge that I think sometimes we tend to overthink and there’s misperceptions out there that because maybe they don’t have technology, that they’re not as creative and innovative when really our communities have been here for hundreds of years and we’re going to be here a long time still.

And so learning how we have put together, caring on culture and language and resources in this new time, I think is really going to be, it’s interesting. I mean, I’m finding new ways to connect with people. And at one point, my mom was here visiting and she did the Zoom call with me and got to be part of our team and give her teaching while she sat in front of my own computer. We still have that richness that we can share and learn from one another and become those friends and those allies and build that relationship.

Lindsay: So beyond virtual work, are there any other trends that you’re seeing and work that you do that you expect will continue in some way, once lockdowns are lifted?

Trina: I think the element of partnership and I mean tend to call it nation building or capacity building, I think that’s going to be an important trend that’s going to continue, because as communities become more empowered with taking on more of their own educational services and their social services. And I think that the element of career services is going to be another growth area, because there’s just certain ways that blending culture and understanding with career development, I think that can really open some beautiful partnerships and again, build that capacity because often as career practitioners, I know I can’t be in every community and I wouldn’t want to in a sense overstep my own boundaries of assuming that I can work with all these different communities and cultures. But what I can do is show them a little bit of how to use a tool and some activities, and then really watch them become empowered. And I think that that is a really good way to continue to have these partnerships and to grow career development in a culturally relevant and practical way.

I think it’s just beautiful that we can continue to be that instrument of service to our communities and come together to make these changes, because as we build those bridges together, we make all of Canada stronger. I just think this is again, a wonderful opportunity, so I wanted to thank you again for letting me share a few thoughts today. And I look forward to the event in January and sharing a little bit more there.

Lindsay: Thank you so much, Trina, for taking the time to chat with me and to share your insights with our CareerWise viewers. And we look forward to hearing more from you at Cannexus21.

Trina Maher Author
Trina Maher is President of Bridging Concepts. Trina is a highly experienced Indigenous community engagement and cross-communications advisor who has supported workplace inclusion goals for corporations, governments and non-profits in Canada since 1999. She is a member of Mattagami First Nation.
Trina Maher Author
Trina Maher is President of Bridging Concepts. Trina is a highly experienced Indigenous community engagement and cross-communications advisor who has supported workplace inclusion goals for corporations, governments and non-profits in Canada since 1999. She is a member of Mattagami First Nation.
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