A vehicle to reconciliation

In my position with the New Car Dealers Association of B.C., I travel the province frequently and meet with many people on a host of industry and automotive-related issues. During a recent trip to Terrace, I had an opportunity to spend time with Lucy Sager to hear about what she describes as the best "accidental project" of her life. It's such a special story, I feel the need to share it with readers.

Let me explain.

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As someone who has spent much of her life in the Northwest and has had direct involvement in the resource industry, Lucy has been witness to a disturbing trend. Although increasing investment opportunities, including LNG are making their way to the region, there is a barrier to many Indigenous people gaining employment - a valid driver's license. It's required to travel to and from work which in many cases may be a remote or isolated community - and it's also a requirement of working on a job site.

For many this may seem like an issue that is inconsequential, so I will try and put this in perspective.

In some indigenous communities, as few as five per cent of the population have a valid driver's license and in many the number is less than 50 per cent.

Instead of bemoaning the situation, Lucy explored the prospect of bringing in driving instructors from elsewhere, but that was cost prohibitive - so instead, she started the process of developing what is today the All Nations Driving Academy.

Word began to spread.

The Haisla Nation called and has now established its own driver training program. Other Indigenous communities also started calling and this month, some 21 Indigenous communities along Highway 16 will be engaged in driver training programming and understanding next steps in operating their own schools. To be clear, Lucy is not selling franchises. She is passing on her knowledge and development model that allows indigenous communities to train themselves.

What began as a venture to help give people a tool they will need for employment, has become something much bigger. As Lucy tells it, "I realized something very special was happening. I started to see on their faces, how important this initiative was. In some cases, this is the most fulfilling thing they have accomplished - and it's not just young people. We have experienced people in their 40s and 50s who have never driven themselves off of the reserve and now they are doing so for the first time.

"In a remote or isolated community, having a valid driver's license is essential to accessing food, proper nutrition for your child, seeing a doctor. It's also vital in an emergency, fleeing an abusive relationship or having an alternative to hitchhiking on a dangerous stretch of highway.

"In your heart you can't help but ask how did we miss this? At the same time, it's like we have handed individuals the key to freedom that we are all meant to have. It can't help but touch you and in some ways I hope it is part of a healing process."

After spending time with Lucy, and hearing from some of those who have been personally touched by the project spearheaded by her, I can't help but imagine the prospects and potential impact, if applied on a broader level.

-- Blair Qualey is the president and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C.

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