Park Place Lodge

Erica Sylte-Hambler stood inside the gym at the College of the Rockies Career and Job Fair. It was a mild, cloudy day in March 2016. Excited students hovered around the various career booths, dropping off resumés and gathering pamphlets. Sylte-Hambler, 15 at the time, was still uncertain about her future career.

She perused the booths, but nothing sparked her interest. Then she looked over at Jackie Mynott, the Aboriginal Support Worker at Prince Charles Secondary School in Creston (now named Kootenay River Secondary School). She reflected on the Indigenous support workers, like Mynott, who had been invaluable to her, supporting her both at school and in her personal life.

“That’s when I decided that that’s where I wanted to go. The more I looked into it and the more I thought about it, the more I knew, this is where I want to be,” says Sylte-Hambler, who is Cree and Métis. Her dream: to enroll in an Aboriginal Education Support Worker program.

A unique opportunity

A step in the right direction came about a year later, when, at age 16, Sylte-Hambler was hired to work at Creston’s Legend Logos, with a wage subsidy from Columbia Basin Trust. Legend Logos is a Yaqan NuɁkiy Heritage Centre, gift shop and community museum for the Yaqan NuɁkiy Peoples. It offers First Nations art and embroidery, and provides lake tours that include teachings about the Indigenous Peoples of the area.

“I got to learn so much about the Yaqan NuɁkiy culture and traditions,” says Sylte-Hambler, who moved to Creston at age 14, after time in Prince George, Moberly Lake’s Saulteau First Nation and West Kelowna, where she was active in the Westbank First Nation Youth Centre. “Legend Logos helped me become part of the community and develop relationships. That’s what a big part of support work is: developing relationships with people, and understanding,” says Sylte-Hambler.

The job was created with support from the Trust’s School Works program. This wage subsidy helps employers hire full-time students on a part-time basis throughout the school year, aiding the employers while providing opportunities for students to gain career-related work experience.

One of Legend Logos’ owners, Denice Louie, explains that her business would not have been able to hire Sylte-Hambler without the support of the School Works program.

“We were pretty limited. Just recently we started to make enough money to hire people,” says Louie. “It’s been really nice to have young people work here, the ones who were supported through the Trust.”

Sylte-Hambler worked in multiple positions at Legend Logos, including the heritage centre, retail and the production side of the business, such as operating the heat press machine.

“She’s a great person, a team worker, and really upbeat and cheerful and willing to do her fair share of work. She is a member of our community and we’re very proud of her,” says Louie.

Louie thinks that the dedication which she saw in Sylte-Hambler will make her a compassionate support worker. “I think that because she’s really intelligent and she’s kind-hearted that she’ll do really well. She’ll make a great impact on whoever she works with.”

A bright future

With experience like this under her belt, in 2020 Sylte-Hambler enrolled in the College of the Rockies’ Aboriginal Education Support Worker diploma program, where she received a BC Indigenous Student Award. Now 21, she graduated from the program in June 2022 and is qualified to support Indigenous youth in public, private or Indigenous schools.

She also currently works part time at Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child and Family Services Society as a Family Support Worker, where she supports clients while building relationships with families and children. She loves this work and plans to continue full time after she graduates, but is also considering a career in education.

“I think one day in the future I’d like to get an Indigenous studies degree, possibly with a Bachelor of Education, so I can teach Indigenous studies,” she says.

Mynott, who has followed Sylte-Hambler’s journey over social media, thinks her former student will be well suited to a career in Indigenous support work.

“There’s just something about her nature and character,” Mynott says. “I believe students will make a really true connection with her.”

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