Interviewing and Supervising Indigenous Youth
By Tyra Verdan (Miskanawah), Sherri Kellock and Leita Blasetti (City of Calgary Youth Employment Centre)
What is Cultural Safety?
A culturally safe workplace recognizes and respects each individual’s cultural identity. It is about examining your own cultural identity and being open minded and non-judgmental towards people from cultures different than our own. Providing a culturally safe work environment means you acknowledge the cultural needs of a colleague or employee and provide a workplace where all employees feel safe to be themselves at all times. http://www.intstudentsup.org/diversity/cultural_safety/
Below are some tips on how to adapt your interview and supervision style to be culturally safe for Indigenous youth.
- Indigenous youth come from a variety of backgrounds. Some were raised in the city, while others were raised on a reserve. Most Indigenous peoples identify with being First Nations, Inuit or Métis. Others may not identify with being Indigenous, especially if they are non-status individuals. Some Indigenous youth may not be aware of their cultural background or cultural identity if they were disconnected from their culture. Do not assume their identity until they share their story with you. Try not stereotype Indigenous peoples as the Indigenous population differs vastly from each tribe and community.
- Many Indigenous peoples are culturally taught to be respectful of their Elders and leaders in their communities and not be boastful. This is especially relevant if they grew up on a reserve. It may be difficult to interview an Indigenous youth, so have to approach the interview differently. Try to prompt them by asking questions about activities they have been involved in at school, home or in their community. An example of this would be if they participated in a pow wow or helped with a fundraising event.
- It is a cultural norm for Indigenous peoples to be active participants in their communities, helping others when needed. Formal work experience can be difficult to achieve, and it may be challenging for Indigenous youth to identify their relevant skills in a workplace setting. Indigenous youth will learn their hard and soft skills outside of a formal workplace by helping their community. Maybe they have helped a community member build a fence, or taken the role of a caregiver to look after younger family members. Interviewers may need to ask questions about these activities to learn about the youth’s transferrable skills.
- Some Indigenous youths appear to be shy or reserved because they have been taught to avoid too much direct eye contact out of respect and to be non-invasive. In the Indigenous community handshakes are usually gentle. This does not mean that the Indigenous person is being disrespectful or not paying attention, it is just a cultural norm. As an employer you always want to respect their culture and ensure cultural safety by being aware of this.
- Indigenous people tend to be story tellers. Listen to them tell a story “about a time” and prompt them by highlighting specific skills you are targeting,
- Highlight what the job is about and what is expected of the youth. This helps the youth feel safe being interviewed as well as working in a new environment and around new people.
- Provide clear directions on roles and responsibilities so the Indigenous youth knows what is expected of them. Let youth know the expected boundaries and rules they need to follow, and incorporate positive praise when youth are doing their job well. This will provide a better workplace environment and prompt a better quality of work. Avoid authoritarian management; youth will not succeed if the work environment is strict and cold. A positive work relationship needs to be built between Indigenous youth and management. If not, it will be difficult to retain employees.
- Provide a job mentor, someone the youth can go to if they have questions at any time. It is important this mentor has an understanding of working with Indigenous youth so the youth has a “safe” person to go to.
- Provide feedback on job performance and provide any problems or concerns in a non-judgmental manner. Hold regular times to meet and discuss job performance.
- The Indigenous community is close-knit and cultural community events are very important to attend. This helps Indigenous youth maintain pride in their identity, health and well-being. Participating in Indigenous community events helps the youth to be a better employee as well.
- Understand that compassionate leave does not only apply to immediate family members, but may also apply to the loss of an aunt, uncle, cousin etc., all of which considered family in the Indigenous community.
- Make it clear that there is zero tolerance to workplace racism or harassment of any form to the youth, as well as other employees.
Additional resources can be found here: https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/safety-starts-here/our-aboriginal-program/culturally-safe-workplaces; https://ipsociety.ca/cultural-safety-at-work/
Miskanawah, a local organization with expertise in working with Indigenous youth and families is running the re:Vision Indigenous employment program. re:Vision is seeking employers who are interested in hiring Indigenous youth and working with the Indigenous community. The youth will have Miskanawah’s assistance to prepare for employment, as well as on-going support to ensure long term success in their employment endeavors. Cultural training and other supports will be available to employers to assist with employee retention and the development of positive working relationships.
Youth Engagement Specialist
Employer Engagement Strategist