Many of Mark McCallum’s childhood memories are of attending assemblies put on by the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA), usually in Athabasca, where his family would travel (from Edmonton) to gather under a big tent for an annual gathering of Albertan Métis people.
“It was as much social as political,” McCallum says. “There were many cultural activities, and social activities for kids. But the MNA is our government — they negotiate for the money that we get from the Canadian government and they’re the sole shareholder of Rupertsland Institute.”
Rupertsland Institute (RLI) is a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to research Métis people’s social, economic and cultural conditions, and improve their educational outcomes and employment opportunities. McCallum is now the CEO. “We focus primarily on training to employment. We can fund their first year of university to their final year, but we could also just help get their safety ticket, or first-aid ticket, or a one-year program to become a certified hairdresser, or maybe they just need a pair of work boots.”
With Métis people voting to ratify the MNA’s constitution in November 2022, it (and by extension, Rupertsland Institute) will receive federal money similar to how provinces receive transfer payments — with restrictions, but also the ability support young Métis people how RLI sees fit. “We want to provide our own services over things that we feel are important, like child welfare, early learning, education, and on housing for homeless. We can do this for our people.”
The RLI’s Fresh Start School Program specifically helps high- and at-risk youths, by helping them earn their high school diplomas and providing them with work experience.
McCallum recalls one youth who didn’t know what he wanted to do until entering the program in 2020, but has since completed his high school education and enrolled in the Royal Canadian Navy’s RAVEN program in 2022. “He transformed throughout the program, from feeling shy, uncomfortable making friends, and unsure about his future — to opening up to staff about his family struggles and trauma, making friends with the other youth, and finding his passion, when he realized his career goal was to join the Navy.”