Treaty 4 News is excited to present the Top 10 Most Influential Economic Developers feature that profiles business leaders, job creators and entrepreneurs who have made a valuable contribution to improving the lives of Indigenous people through business and have helped keep Saskatchewan’s economy vibrant and strong. 

In the past few years, more and more Indigenous people have forged business careers working at the First Nation community level, building Tribal Council economic development projects, climbing the corporate ladder at government Crown Corporations and in the last few years guiding the private sector as they engage with First Nations.

Now a new generation of entrepreneurs are building successful brands like Neechie Gear, Shop Indigenous, SheNative as they develop products for an ever growing Indigenous market.

Over 10 weeks, Treaty 4 News will release one profile a week of an economic developer we believe is influential in building a better future for Indigenous people through business.

This week we introduce Lyle Daniels.

Lyle Daniels – Top 10 economic developer

By Evan Radford

Lyle Daniels 2

Lyle Daniels. Photo credit: Evan Radford.

For a man whose peers laud him on how he’s changed the relationship between labour unions and young aboriginal people in Saskatchewan, Lyle Daniels tries his best to avoid talking about himself.

Sitting in his quiet, dimly lit office, Daniels spends the majority of an hour-long interview explaining the structure of the province’s trade unions and how they work vis-à-vi companies, journeymen and apprentices.

He keeps the blinds on all three windows tightly shut, allowing only a trace of sunlight into his west-facing office.

Ask Daniels about himself, his influence or changes he’s brought, and he’ll shy away from such topics, as if they’re unimportant.

Ask the 52-year-old about recruiting young aboriginal people into the trades – and especially the unions that support those trades – and he beams with rigour, passion and focus.

Despite his insistence on avoiding accolades, Daniels sat down with Treaty 4 News to discuss his work and the current state of the province’s aboriginal workforce in the trades.

Getting started with trade unions and recruiting young indigenous people

Six years ago, Daniels took on his role as Aboriginal Labour Development Strategist with the Saskatchewan Building Trades Council. Prior to that, he was the sport and culture director at FSIN.

He said that despite his current title, he sees himself as more of an HR (human resources) recruiter. “I’m just opening the door for our young people. It’s their choice to walk through it,” he said.

“First Nation and Métis people in Saskatchewan may not understand the system that I work in. So it’s my job not only to prepare them for work, but it’s also to prepare them for the environment that they’re going to be working in,” he said.

That system involves 13 different unions – everything from millwrights to boilermakers to pipe fitters – and all of the province’s industrial and resource companies who need the people of those unions.

It’s clear that Daniels prioritizes stable, long-term career choices over high-paying yet short-lived work projects.

“A lot of companies utilize our communities just for simple labour – a meat market for our community,” he said. “They don’t give them any further opportunities to advance.”

At the same time, he admits that “90 per cent of the First Nations and Métis people that come through my door, send me an email or send me their resume, I can’t refer them, because they’re not ready.”

That’s where he comes in: as a bridge between aboriginal communities, labour unions and the province’s resource and industrial companies.

Those interested are screened rigorously, Daniels said, because in his mind, they’ll be working with the pros and eventually will be pros.

Influence and accomplishments 

Peggy Vermette is one such peer of Daniels’ who has seen the effect of his work first-hand.

As Saskatoon Tribal Council’s project coordinator, she worked with Daniels on a millwrights training program last fall.

“The success story we have from that is a young woman from Mistawasis,” Vermette said. She was among four other trainees who were seeking acceptance into the millwrights union, which she eventually gained.

“He’s really passionate about what he does,” she said. “He’s the kind of person who tells it like it is – how things work in a union, what to expect.”

That’s important for Saskatchewan’s young indigenous people for two reasons, Vermette said: unions provide consistent support in an industry that’s constantly shifting; and in the past, some unions outright wouldn’t accept aboriginal people.

Ec Dev series Congratulations-Ad“I think he’s kind of a trailblazer. And people who do that, they make the way easier for others coming behind them,” like younger siblings and family members, she said.

Jan Morgan echoes similar sentiments. She met Daniels through her work as director of labour market services at the Ministry of the Economy.

She said that when she met him four years ago, “his vision was that First Nations people aspire to larger roles and responsibilities in the economy and careers, specifically in the trades area.”

Beyond Daniels’ recruitment and engagement work, Morgan highlighted the little things he did to help people overcome particular challenges.

Things like helping pay first month’s rent; driving a new applicant if he/she didn’t own a car or was still waiting to get a license; and acting as a mentor for someone who’d moved away from home for the first time, especially off reserve.

Morgan described his efforts as being “creative to find a way to solve and overcome problems.”

“Now we just need five more Lyles,” she said, half joking and half serious.

Adding value to Saskatchewan Building Trades

“I wouldn’t be working for Aecon if it wasn’t for Lyle Daniels and the work he’s been doing for Saskatchewan Building Trades Council,” said Don Ross, who’s been with the industrial construction company for the last four years.

Daniels first approached Ross to pitch him on developing a First Nations business strategy for Aecon, he said.

“We developed an aboriginal engagement strategy for employment and training. Lyle and I worked on all of those together and started implementing them for over three years now,” training pipe fitters, millwrights, electricians and others, he said.

In Ross’ mind, two things stand out about Daniels: “his sincerity to do his best and help people; and being a positive influence on young people and for young people.”

According to Ross, Daniels holds industrial and resource companies to their commitments.

He does that by ensuring they’ll bring on fully unionized members; at the same time, he delivers on his commitments by only referring the top trades people, he said.

When asked how he assesses Daniels’ value to Saskatchewan Building Trades, executive director Terry Parker said Daniels does exactly what’s needed in the current economic and demographic climate.

“We need someone with an understanding of First Nations people, who can bring forward the concerns of First Nations people. And someone who knows the industry, and relates and works well with young people.”

In Parker’s mind, Daniels is that person.

 

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