“I used to see all the reality shows about the ice roads and the houseboats, the gold mines. I never thought I would have the opportunity to come here.”
Tarik Abid and his wife, Lilia, call this their dream move.
Originally from Algeria, Tarik and Lilia are a CDETNO success story. Through a chance encounter at CDETNO’s booth at a Parisian job fair, the Abids ended up becoming Yellowknife residents.
“Here is like a dream for Tarik, and for me,” Lilia told Cabin Radio. “There is social life and professional life. It’s not a big city, it’s a small city where you can do a lot of things. You can work and you can enjoy life.”
Lilia now works at Javaroma, while Tarik is employed by Det’on Cho Logistics. “It became a reality through CDETNO,” he said.
CDETNO, which celebrated its 15th anniversary with a gala at Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel on Tuesday, exists to promote the NWT’s economic development.
Operating primarily in French but able to support anyone, the non-profit helps francophone people either immigrate or move across Canada to the NWT, matching them up with employers and helping local businesses fill vacancies.
Once people arrive here, CDETNO supports them and their children as they find work, create businesses, or settle in at school.
“What we try to do, on a daily basis, is provide the best picture of the Northwest Territories as a destination, and a place to live, and a place where you can either find a job or start a business,” said François Afane, CDETNO’s executive director.
“We attract, we settle, and we accompany as well. Across the board, we provide services.
“We help employers to get people to come here but, when they get here, we don’t just abandon them in terms of settlement, jobs, getting ready for employment, and whether their kids need support.”
For example, CDETNO’s SWIS program – Settlement Workers in Schools – helps children who are new in the NWT’s schools.
“We provide tools and support to help kids get into our school system, understand the system, thrive, and be successful,” said Afane.
“If we do that from the get-go, we can ensure these people will be successful citizens in the future.”
“I was impressed when I heard about their school supports,” said Caroline Cochrane, the territory’s minister for education, culture, and employment. “It’s not only about French people they are supporting, it’s inclusiveness. That’s what we should be doing.
“They are absolutely critical. We need organizations like this to promote not only the French language but also to open up opportunities for people like immigrants, or people from Canada, to come here.”
Yellowknife’s Copperhouse restaurant is an example of a business recruiting staff with CDETNO’s help.
CDETNO will attend the Destination Canada job fairs in Paris and Brussels – like the one the Abids went to – for the twelfth time this fall. Last time, that’s where they found the right member of staff to help Copperhouse.
“We are not specialists in immigration but we provide advice,” said Afane.
“People see the value we have in helping to hire people from the francophone market who are bilingual. They bring a new perspective, they come and settle, and they become a part of the community.”
The non-profit’s services go beyond that, to helping people already in Yellowknife who are looking for work.
CDETNO regularly holds Employment Café job fairs, where people can turn up with a resumé and meet a range of local employers. The last one took place in May, with another due before the end of 2018.
“We also provide a careers centre where people can look for work and apply for jobs, and Dress to Impress, which is a program where we provide free shoes and clothes just to help people,” continued Afane.
“They say your first impression lasts, so if the way you look is a barrier to you getting a job, we provide you with support in terms of dressing you from bottom to top. If you secure employment and you need work boots, a stethoscope, a uniform, we have the funds to provide that service.”
Business, not politics
Sylvie Francoeur, a former executive director of CDETNO, is impressed at the organization’s growth since its founding in 2003.
“From there, where I think the budget was $230,000 a year, now it’s almost $1 million,” she said. “It started from a staff of two people and, when I was there, we had 12 employees.
“From having no partners and being completely unknown, to now being very well-connected within the community and government – it’s nice to see that growth.”
Francoeur explained the NWT’s francophone community could see, in 2003, a gap in the market where a contribution to the territory’s economy could be made, by support and attracting more people to come North.
But, she said, the organization realized it couldn’t do so solely in French.
“You can’t contribute in your little island, francophone blah, blah, blah. You have to mix and respect the other cultures, and the fact we are on Chief Drygeese territory,” said Francoeur.
“We have to have partnerships and work together, that was the whole idea behind CDETNO. Doing business, not politics.
“A lot of times, when you think of the French community, it’s a lot about politics. This wasn’t about politics, it was about business.”
“We’re bilingual, it’s not just in French,” agreed Jean-François Pitre, one of CDETNO’s founders and its current president.
“Come and check us out and, if we can help you, we will. We’ll steer you in the right direction.”
Sponsors of this week’s CDETNO 15th anniversary celebration included PIDO, Crowe Mackay, the City of Yellowknife, EDGE, Radio Taiga, L’Aquilon, CasCom, Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, Collège Nordique Francophone, Ayni Conceptions, BDIC, Office Compliments, Great Slave Lake Safari, YK Dance, the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, and the Explorer Hotel.