RRC Polytech’s new vice president of Indigenous strategy and business development shares thoughts about Indigenous education

By: Jesse Mass

In a recent workshop at Red River Polytechnic’s Notre Dame campus, Jamie Wilson, vice president of Indigenous strategy and business development at RRC Polytech, used running as a metaphor for internal and external motivation.

Running is in Wilson’s blood. His grandfather tried out for the 1912 Olympics, and his father ran at the residential school he attended. Wilson is also a provincial champion in triathlon. 

“From working at a fully Indigenized land-based school in Hawaii to his athletic achievements in Manitoba, to his family and their history with the Canadian government, his work with Treaties, all this, and more, is the sum of what makes Jamie, Jamie,” said Dayna Graham, who has worked with Wilson for more than 20 years and led the discussion at the Immersive Storytelling workshop.

Through all of his life experience, Wilson has seen firsthand the difficulties Canada’s Indigenous population faces. 

“We’re missing out if we’re only doing education. We’ve got to get involved in the broader kind of business world,” said Wilson.

Wilson sees an opportunity with RRC Polytech to make the necessary changes to bring more Indigenous people into the industry and to pursue post-secondary education through Indigenous education. 

“That’s why having elders on campus is so important. That’s why having spaces like the Roundhouse Auditorium are so important. Doing ceremonies is important. Safe spaces for Indigenous students are so important,” Wilson said.

Jamie Wilson looks on at students in the Manitou a bi Bii daziigae building on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Jamie Wilson is the new vice president of Indigenous strategy and business development at RRC Polytech. (Jesse Mass)

Wilson mentioned historical challenges blocking Indigenous access to further education. The educational system in the past has been used as a weapon against Indigenous culture for generations, which has made Indigenous people wary of what institutions like RRC Polytech offer, he said.

“The education system was used to take kids away from their culture. Communities subversively tried to stop that process by not supporting education to a certain extent that sometimes still exists,” said Wilson.

Wilson believes this challenge can still be met.

“As an institution, we have to go overboard and say, this is not the place where you come to stop being who you are.”

30,000 Indigenous people over 25 in Manitoba do not have post-secondary education, according to the last census.

“There is lots of excellent stuff happening here. As an institution, RRC Polytech is not as slow as the government but not as fast as the industry. We’re stuck in the middle,” said Wilson.

“If we can attract 5 per cent of that 30,000 to return to school for some reason, then we’ll be doing good.”

Wilson thinks that change will take time to happen.