My name is Ken Sanderson. My mother comes from Pinaymootang First Nation and my father from St. Jean Baptiste. My life has been full of “opportunities” – what most people refer to as challenges. My story isn’t really about “my” success so much as it is about the support I have had along the way to help me rise up to opportunities.
My parents didn’t stay together and I grew up primarily with my mother. We were on welfare, living in an urban neighbourhood that at the time had virtually no other Aboriginal families. Growing up on welfare posed challenges, for sure, but those were compounded by racial “learning opportunities.” When times of alcoholism came, school was my refuge. When things got tough with school peers, caring teachers were my support.
I had graduated and, by the time I was 20, I was married with two children, being the sole income provider. I had tried and dropped out of my first year of university and wasn’t sure what to do with myself until one day, while working as a community practitioner, someone saw me facilitating a session and made the comment “you would make a good teacher, you seem to have a passion.” That one comment set my mind in motion and I immediately had a vision that resonated with me.
I contacted the university, got myself re-instated, applied for band funding and got put on the waiting list. I was determined not to let time slip by, so I didn’t bother to wait for funding and took out a student loan. Fortunately, band funding did eventually come through. However, in order to keep the funding I needed to be in full time studies, I also needed to work full time since I was the sole income earner and had a wife and two young children. Being the family guy I am, I also wanted to make sure that I spent as much time as possible with my family. This meant a lot of really late nights and, eventually, a lot of coffee.
I must add here that, although I was running around the clock, my wife’s support and amazing parenting is what made all this even possible for me. It is true what they say, ‘behind every good man, is a better woman.’
I didn’t end up getting a degree in education; instead I had switched to math and computer science – two areas that had fascinated me. Where my big break came in was halfway through my university, when my tutoring jobs started dwindling, a pastor referred me to a First Nation business man, Daniel Paul Bork, that he was friends with. I met with Daniel and he agreed to hire me for his consulting firm with the intention of mentoring and developing me as well.
I learned a lot and met many people in the corporate world and Aboriginal community. Even after I had graduated from university, Daniel’s mentorship had given me so many skills and insights. One of the projects I got involved in was the establishment of the first Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, where I took on the role as the first interim coordinator.
Eventually, I moved from the consulting role and applied for a job in the provincial government. While the competition was fierce, in the end, I got the job, largely because of all of the skills and connections that I had gained through working with the consulting firm and with the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce.
Learning has never stopped and I have been since blessed with another fabulous director who has been a great mentor to me. The projects and files I get to work on are always exciting and full of great learning opportunities. In this role, I have been given the wonderful honour to lead our government/corporate employer partnerships, playing a lead role in partnering with the Aboriginal Human Resource Council with the Workforce Connex forums and with the Manitoba Aboriginal trades projects. I have also been given the freedom to play a lead role in social media and the creation of an Aboriginal Human Resource group on LinkedIn, which currently serves professional members from all over Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
I have feel like my journey has only just begun. My tips to others:
- Find good mentors – people to attach yourself to.
- Don’t give up – even when things seem hard. It is like the last mile in a race.
- Don’t wait for things to happen – make them happen. If I had waited for band funding before starting university, it might never have happened. They only picked up my funding because they saw I was already started and performing well.
- Never lose sight of the importance of family – they are a foundation.
Policy Analyst, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs
Government of Manitoba