British Columbia

Northern B.C. entrepreneur receives award to help First Nations run driving schools

An entrepreneur in the northwestern B.C. community of Terrace won a $10,000 award to continue her work helping Indigenous communities open their own driving schools. 

Not having a licence can mean missing out on a job or turning to risky hitchhiking

Lucy Sager, CEO of All Nations Driving Academy, was a winner of the ThriveNorth Business Competition announced this week in Terrace, B.C. (Carolina de Ryk/CBC)

An entrepreneur in Terrace, located about 150 kilometres inland from Prince Rupert on B.C.'s north coast, has won $10,000 to continue her work helping Indigenous communities open their own driving schools. 

The ThriveNorth Business Competition announced this year's winners on Tuesday, naming Lucy Sager, CEO of All Nations Driving Academy, as one of four victors. 

"I come in and I help them train a member to become a driving instructor, start a business, have the vehicle and have the graduated license curriculum. So they essentially have a turnkey not only to run a business, but really to teach themselves how to drive," Sager told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC Radio's Daybreak North

Studies show that between five and 45 per cent of Indigenous people living on reserves do not have a driver's licence, according to Sager.

Why many do not have licenses

Sager says driving gives Indigenous people access to their territory, to be able to hunt and gather food and also participate in the wider B.C. economy. 

In promoting driver training, Sager was also thinking about the Highway of Tears, the Highway 16 corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many Indigenous women have disappeared. 

"If we look at how many Indigenous women went missing and how many of those women were hitchhiking and didn't have a driver's license ... [driving] really has become the foundation for how can we be safe."

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)

Many of the people Sager has taught to drive are first-generation drivers. No one in their family has ever had a driver's license. Sager learned that for many people in Indigenous communities, their first memory of being in a vehicle was during the Sixties Scoop — when Indigenous children were taken away from their families for adoption — or being taken to residential school. 

"What they shared is that they didn't actually have the skills to teach their kids or grandkids how to drive ... and so in many of my cohorts, I had actually three generations of people learning together."

No licence creates limitations

Sager says many don't have licenses because they once lived on coastal B.C. islands where people traveled by boat or float plane. 

"And so as people come into central southern B.C., wanting to rent a car [and] go to work ... it's just not possible."

Sager says this can cause people to get stuck in a cycle of social assistance or poverty. Not having access to a vehicle means fewer options for employment. 

Lucy Sager says driving in Indigenous communities allows people to access their territory, hunt and gather food and also participate in the general economy of B.C.   (Emily Chung/CBC)

It's not possible to drive a logging truck or heavy equipment in a mine without a driver's license, says Sager. 

"What it really means is B.C. is not operating the way it could be operating."

By having driving schools in the communities and owned by people within the communities, more residents will be able to broaden their access to jobs, she says. 

Sager's goal is to help create 20 Indigenous driving schools in B.C. She has met with both the provincial and federal governments, as well as ICBC.

Listen to Carolina de Ryk interview winners of ThriveNorth:

With files by Daybreak North.