Celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
Every year on August 9 we celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP), a moment to recognize and honour the traditions, values, cultures, strengths and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada, and Indigenous Peoples around the world.
Across our global operations, in every place we live and work, our roots run deep within the Indigenous communities we are proud to call partners, neighbors and friends. These strong ties have been paramount to our success for decades.
But companies don’t forge unbreakable connections – people do. So, this week, in celebration of IDWIP, we wanted to shine a light every day on our people and the programs making a difference for Indigenous Peoples around the world, from suicide prevention on the southwest coast of Australia to mentorship and road construction in central Mexico and motivating the next generation in the Northwest Territories.
For Coral Vazquez, home is not only where the heart is, but also every ounce of her soul, strength and passion.
Since joining ATCO in 2018, Coral has been working with Indigenous Communities near our Veracruz Hydroelectric Plant in the municipality of Zongolica, Mexico—the very place she was born and raised—on projects that are truly making a difference.
We asked Coral to share a bit about the things that motivate and inspire her:
Tell us about one incredible experience you’ve had on a community project.
In the community of Xometla, people had to walk for about an hour to get the nearest town, for supplies or to visit places like medical clinics. To help cut down on travel time we helped them build and continuously improve a main road, and to initiate the work, the community celebrated an ancestral ethnic ritual feast called the Xochicoxcatl. I had the honour of joining the Nahua ritual in which flowers are offered to the land where the work will be carried out. By the way, the road is now 70% paved and community members can now make that same trip in about 10 minutes.
What does it mean to you to give back to the very places where you grew up?
It is so satisfying to get to know these many communities up close and truly gratifying to create a lasting bond of friendship. For me, it’s priceless to be welcomed into a community with a smile, with a hug; to arrive at a family's house and be invited to join them at their table. I am thankful for the opportunity to work in and for my community—I’m part of a team that’s really making a difference.
When Russell James saw a problem through the COVID-19 pandemic, he vowed to find a solution.
"Unfortunately, Western Australia is the leader in Indigenous suicide across the country, so I wanted to do something about that,” said Russell, the General Manager of Busines Development West for ATCO Australia.
Deeply affected by this distressing stat, and after watching friends and loved ones struggling with their own mental health, he decided to complete a charity walk of the Bibbulmun Track – one of the world's great long-distance walk trails, stretching 1000 km through the heart of the scenic south west of Western Australia.
"The walk took me from Perth (Whadjuk land) to Albany (Mineng land), where I paid my respects on the amazing Noongar country and am so grateful to live," said Russell. “Coincidentally, with so few visitors in Western Australia, it was a great time to do the trek, and it's only fitting that the challenge raised money to give back to Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples, and especially youth.”
In the end, Russell raised awareness to go along with over $20,000 AUD for the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP).
“The NSPTRP is a smaller not-for-profit working tirelessly at a grass-roots level to support those most critically vulnerable,” said Russell. “They’re making a real difference in the community and need our support to continue their work and outreach approach.”
Learning unlocks potential, and nothing empowers learning more than a dedicated mentor and role model.
To celebrate 2021 International Youth Day, and on the heels of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we wanted to shine a bright light on some incredible kids in Veracruz, Mexico, who are part of ATCO Mexico’s Mentorship Program benefitting Indigenous children from rural areas.
First, here’s what we’re up against: School dropout is a very real problem in the Mexican educational system, with one out of every 10 elementary school students failing to complete their basic education. That’s a heartbreaking statistic but also an incredible opportunity to make a big difference.
And this is how our program works: in partnership with the non-profit organization Peraj and the Technological Institute of Zongolica, the mentorship program pairs up Indigenous elementary school children from underprivileged backgrounds, with university students who act as their tutors and role models.
It’s a classic win-win situation: traditionally disadvantaged elementary school kids are empowered to grow and reach their full potential, while university students gaining academic credits and partial scholarships to help offset the costs of higher education.
And the good news is, it’s working! Since 2012, 380 children have participated in the program, resulting in a 50% reduction in school dropout rates, along with 78 university scholarships awarded to our mentors.
We couldn’t be prouder.
At age 73, Jim Thom shows no signs of slowing down.
For almost 30 years, Jim has worked with Northland Utilities, ATCO’s electricity distribution company in NWT, helping to keep the lights on for hundreds of his friends, neighbors and family in the Fort Providence and Dort Point areas, just south west of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, Canada.
But there is so much more to Jim’s story.
A past Chief and current Councilor of the Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation, husband, father, lifelong mentor to youth and residential school survivor, we sat down with Jim to explore the importance of lifting up the community and what the Deh Gáh Got'îê culture means to him.
You’ve dedicated your life, either through band and council or through Northland’s Mentorship Program, to helping lift young people up. Why is this a priority for you?
The most important thing in my mind is to make sure our youth have the right tools for their own journey. But I don’t think of this as training or mentoring—I try to motivate people. Being a small community, everyone sees what you’re doing, so it’s important to be a good role model. Also, we have only a handful of industries in our community, so there is value in trying to push people to try new things. I’m proud of the mentorship program we’ve established here. We’ve had over a dozen people come through, and others who have continued to pursue learning afterwards. This is a sign that we’ve been successful. I’d really just like to thank them for putting the work in and trying their best.
You are a survivor of the Fort Providence Residential School. How did that experience affect you?
I was 5 or 6 when I started at that school, and every June my father and the whole family would pick me up and paddle down river in a 22-foot freighter. We’d spend the next two months connected to the land, connected back to mother nature and our language. That was so important to helping us all stick to our cultural values.
How important is it for all of us to stay connected to the land?
Over the past few years in particular, much like my whole family did during my time at the res, I’ve really embraced being on the land once again. More than ever I enjoy listening to the stories of our elders, as part of our band programs. I am more grounded in those moments, and with that comes to ability to be more observant – the conditions of the water for example. Once you ground yourself in nature, it gives you peace and energy. It’s an incredible help to you and it’s something you must always get back to. That’s why this has always been an important part of our communities’ land programs.
If you could summarize your lifetime of experiences in one word, what would it be?
My wife Margaret keeps busy with her duties for the territorial legislative assembly, my sisters are teaching the younger generation how to work on the land today. I have four daughters doing very well, as are my nieces, nephews and grandsons.
So, I think I would say that I’m grateful. One of my favourite quotes is, “if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life”. I feel that’s true for me.