Little Pine First Nation Chief Wayne Semaganis

Little Pine First Nation Chief Wayne Semaganis says a new employment program has helped slash welfare rates on his reserve. (YouTube)

A Saskatchewan First Nation that put workboots on its members and transported them to the city says it has cut its welfare rolls by a third.
Wayne Semaganis, chief of the Little Pine First Nation, says a one-year-old program meant to get members working and off social assistance is paying off in many ways.

"Nobody likes being on welfare," Semaganis told CBC Blue Sky host Garth Materie. "All our people have pride in themselves and they want to exercise that pride."

Jobs found in Lloydminster

In the past month, 70 previously unemployed people have found jobs in Lloydminster, the city that straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border and is about 90 kilometres northwest of Little Pine.

'You see some of your friends go to work and you want to go to work.' - Little Pine Chief Wayne Semaganis

Another 30 had found work since the program launched in August 2012.

The lifeskills and job placement program is a joint venture of the reserve and the federal Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Department. It acts as a liaison between the Little Pine work force and area employers. Band members' resumés are collected and training upgrades are provided when necessary.

Steel-toed boots made difference

A lot of the unemployed people on Little Pine wanted to work, but lacked transportation — and in some cases the equipment, Semaganis said.

Map of Little Pine First Nation

Little Pine First Nation is located about 90 kilometres southeast of Lloydminster. (Google Maps)

"We sent 70 people to work and we had to buy steel-toed boots for all of 'em," he said. "It cost our band $7,000.  But we found the funding to help them out."

Some of those people are now working at the Husky oil upgrader. Others have found work at a local shopping mall or in hotels.

A solution was also found for the transportation problem.

"We got enough funds together to buy two buses to drive people back and forth to work, and also two shuttle vans," he said.

Community is quieter

Semaganis said the atmosphere around Little Pine reserve, home to about 675 people, is changing: It's a quieter and happier community now.

He notes that people who have to get to work in the morning are less likely to hang out at night and get into trouble. 

When people who are still unemployed see their neighbours getting back in the job market, it rubs off on them.

"You see some of your friends go to work and you want to go to work," he said.

There's also more pride on Little Pine these days, Semaganis said, because the pay cheques are bigger and people can take better care of their families.