British Columbia

School offers free driver training for First Nations in northern B.C.

All Nations Driving Academy is offering free driver training to Indigenous people to help break down barriers to employment in northern B.C.

$360K in funding provided to All Nations Driving Academy from B.C. government

All Nations Driving Academy has received funding from the B.C. government to continue offering free driving lessons for Indigenous communities in the northern parts of the province. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Getting a driver's licence is an empowering rite of passage, but for some Indigenous people in northern British Columbia, it can be a real challenge.

The inability to drive, especially in remote communities, makes accessing employment, medical appointments and evacuating during natural disasters sometimes impossible.

All Nations Driving Academy is trying to change that.

The academy, located in Terrace, B.C., has received $360,000 from the provincial government to support driver training for Indigenous people in northern communities. Academy founder Lucy Sager says the plan is to teach approximately 600 people from Haida Gwaii to Prince George how to operate a vehicle by March 2020.

Sager said drivers do need to be 16 years or older, but many applying students in their 40s, 50s and even 60s are hoping to get licensed for the first time.

"The entire dynamic of the family changes when someone can drive," said Sager, who has already helped 220 people from 13 First Nations get their licences in the last three months, with initial funding in the amount of $80,000, which she received in January from the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training.

The money will help cover costs for driver training and licensing. It will also help students who have issues with their identification.

"What a lot of people don't know is that ICBC does not accept a status card as government issued ID and so that's their first hurdle," said Sager.

Another hurdle, said Sager, is the lack of supervising drivers with legal licences to assist learners in Indigenous communities. She has heard from people in those communities that this could stem from past trauma during The Sixties Scoop when government cars took children from their families.

"They were vehicles of trauma that can be vehicles of reconciliation," said Sager who admires the "tremendous bravery" some of her students have shown by getting behind the steering wheel.

Lucy Sager, founder of All Nations Driving Academy, says she has already helped over 200 people learn how to drive since May. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

Sager, who started the academy when she saw so many Indigenous friends and co-workers hampered by their inability to drive, said her "ultimate dream" is to have an Indigenous-owned driving school.

"That's how I believe the cycle will be broken," she said.

Sager said the need for a driver's licence is growing in the north as access improves. Until now, she said, there are many Indigenous families in the north where no one has ever had a licence or a vehicle. This has also forced many people to hitchhike where they need to go and put themselves in vulnerable situations

"There weren't actually roads into communities," said Sager. "As roads are becoming available, more people are coming to work on the mainland, where different opportunities exist."

Sager encouraged Daybreak North listeners looking to get licences to reach out.

"If you are out there listening, and you've always wanted to have a driver's licence, I hope you feel really encouraged today to know that that's possible for you."

Interested drivers-to-be can learn more about this program on the academy's website 

Daybreak North, Bridgette Watson