With about 300 people in four distinct communities along the Fraser River in British Columbia, the Yale First Nation Band Office used to face a difficult logistical issue whenever they held a community event; how would they get community members there and back? In fact, transportation was a significant challenge for many residents for common tasks, such as medical visits or grocery runs.
So when the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) put out a call for proposals as part of its Community Safety and Outreach Initiative. Yale First Nation staff submitted an ambitious idea – a shuttle bus.
Chief of Yale First Nation Ken Hansen explains: “When there were gatherings of our community members, which are fairly common in a small, tight-knit community like ours, it was clear that a shuttle bus would be a great solution to the challenges we’ve had in previous years. We often had Band Office staff using their personal vehicles to drive people around, back and forth to different events.”
“Many of our events included important cultural teachings that are not done in the classroom,” adds Chief Hansen. “They are done on the land, and that is just one aspect of how a shuttle bus would be very, very helpful to us.”
The Yale First Nation proposal for a shuttle bus was carefully considered, including several levels of screening, and ultimately the proposal was approved by the National Executive of USJE. Stan Stapleton, USJE National President, says he was encouraged by the decision to fund a project of this size.
“Certainly, there were several factors to consider, not the least of which was the capital cost of a shuttle bus,” Stapleton explains. “But when you weigh that cost versus the true impacts that an in-house shuttle bus would have on the four communities of Yale First Nation and its residents, there was large support by the USJE National Executive to proceed.”
Other planned uses for the shuttle include organized field trips for the community daycare children and their parents, and a multitude of events for the very active local youth program in the area, as well as important deliveries to their brothers and sisters who no longer live in the communities.
“Our Nation has a substantial component of family members who live in Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside,” says Chief Hansen. “And where before we would bring supplies or Christmas hampers in a caravan of personal vehicles, now we can load the shuttle bus up and bring more supplies, clothing and food to them all in one shot. It’s a game-changer for us.”
“And a lot of our Elders, like any Elders, have mobility issues, so this shuttle is not just about medical appointments or groceries, which are key,” Chief Hansen continued, “This bus also allows Elders to participate in community events and share their cultural knowledge, our oral history, with the rest of us. The automated lift in the back of the shuttle allows our residents with serious mobility issues to still remain a part of our community events, which are so very important to us.”
Of course, the pandemic has limited use of the bus to deliveries and appointments, which keeps the contact footprint small, but requests to utilize the bus keep coming in. So much so, that there are ongoing plans to have multiple people trained in driving the bus, so that the Band Office and community members aren’t reliant on just one person’s availability.
“This isn’t just about Yale First Nation,” says Chief Hansen. “Yale is the mother ship, but we’re involved with multiple organizations in the larger community around Hope, B.C., mobilizing for different events in the Fraser Canyon. So the shuttle actually has a positive impact on the whole area, not just for us. We’re very thankful.”
The USJE Community Safety and Outreach Initiative is just that, an investment in Canadian communities. It is rooted in a belief that unions not only improve the lives of their own members but that they also strive to make real impacts in our greater communities as well. The Yale First Nation shuttle bus is a proud example of that philosophy.
USJE’s Community Safety and Outreach Initiative was established in 2019 as part of a three-year strategic plan for USJE. Four great projects from across the country were selected and funded from a host of applications. Our Union believes that union involvement is not limited solely to our workplaces but that we have an important role to play in strengthening the communities we live in as well.