British Columbia

Lack of funding a roadblock to free driving lessons in remote First Nations communities

For many, learning to drive is a rite of passage but for those who live in a remote Indigenous community in northern B.C., that access can be nearly impossible — and it’s not getting any easier.

A driving licence is access to safe transportation and an important piece of ID

Lucy Sager, founder of All Nations Driving Academy, says she can't run the driving school without financial support. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

For many, learning to drive is a rite of passage. But for those who live in remote Indigenous communities in northern B.C., that access can be nearly impossible — and it's not getting any easier. 

For the past two years, the All Nations Driving Academy has taught driving along Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears. But a change in provincial funding may put an end to the program. 

"We don't have the resources to be able to continue this without support," said Lucy Sager, owner and founder of the driving school in Terrace. 

"We're hoping that the provincial government will have a change of heart and we'll be able to stay on the road just a little bit longer."

The driving academy had previously been awarded $360,000 from the provincial government but now, Sager said, the province wants to bypass the school and work directly with people in the community.

"We do respect that they would like to have a relationship directly with the communities," she told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

"The challenge is always communication."

Her school offers free driving lessons to people living in remote communities along the highway from Cheslatta to Old Masset. Many of those wouldn't otherwise know how to access other forms of government support to get their licence, Sager said.

Highway 16 in northern B.C. has become known as the Highway of Tears. Since 1969, at least 40 women and girls, mostly Indigenous, have gone missing or been murdered along the 700-km stretch of highway. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Patrika Macavoy, a village councillor and resident of Old Masset, explained how expensive and challenging it can be to travel even just to the grocery store or doctor's office in places without public transportation. 

"Access to transportation can be a really huge barrier," she said. 

"[The driving school] is providing safety and it's also, on the larger scale of things, helping to address the issues that we face as Indigenous communities and people."

Sager has an upcoming meeting with the superintendent of motor vehicles in Victoria to talk about the funding for the program and the gap she fears it will leave behind. 

And it's not just about driving, she said. A driver's licence can be used as a crucial piece of identification. 

"ID is one of our biggest challenges," she said.

"ICBC and banks do not accept laminated status cards as government-issued ID for primary ID"

That was cited by the Bank of Montreal recently as the problem that led to the arrest of an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year-old granddaughter who were trying to open a bank account in Vancouver: that the pair didn't have sufficient identification. 

"What happened with the Bank of Montreal has really helped all of us just open our eyes and say, 'What is our banking policy and how are people so disadvantaged, whether it's ID or access to even have things like a B.C. ID card or driver's licence?'" she said. 

With files from Daybreak North