Skeena Voices | A natural builder

·6 min read

After 14 years in the Terrace area, Cal Albright, 64, is taking his talents to the Lower Mainland.

“It’s been the seven years in the friendship centre and the seven years working with the Nisga’a, it’s like I’m leaving a big family behind but I know that I have lots and lots of wonderful memories,” said Albright, who is leaving his role as Kermode Friendship Centre’s executive director.

Now, it is time for the next step in his career. Albright left for Surrey on Feb. 3 to become the Fraser Regional Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association’s executive director while also continuing his work on the BC Association on Friendship Centres board.

“Surrey is a fast moving place, there’s lots of issues, lots of programs, there’s lots of room for expansion and I’m a natural builder, I can see being able to add more programs to help people there,” he said.

Before moving to northwest B.C. all those years ago, Albright, who is Cree-Métis, began his career in his home province of Manitoba. He obtained a master’s degree in social work and was plying his trade in Thompson, Man. when he accepted an offer to work for the Nisga’a Nation as director of programs and services.

“It was about minus 35 degrees and my truck was a brick and my wife and I had been talking for some time about moving out west, and so this job came up in this area to work for the Nisga’a Nation so that was like 15 years ago so that’s what brought me out here,” he said.

Albright said that he has always been the type of person to find ways to empower people, and as a social worker he tried to create opportunities for positive change. He devoted his career to building capacity within First Nations communities and working with Indigenous organizations.

“That lead me to running into all sorts of elders, I’ve had lots and lots of contact with elders who have been very patient with me and I’ve taken a lot of my experience from them.”

After a few years in the area, Albright started work on an executive masters of business administration degree. When he was finishing up that degree, the Kermode Friendship Centre contacted him twice with a job offer.

That opportunity was another way for Albright to use his education and experience to facilitate systemic change.

“I think there’s institutional racism that everyone needs to be brave enough to own up to it and let’s create some change in systems so that we have systems that will deliver services in a good way to the people that need them,” he said.

“I see more and more Indigenous people, we have lots of people doing frontline work but we’ve got lots of our people that are running organizations that are high up in executive management positions all over. I look at the transfer of health services from Health Canada to the First Nations Health Authority here in B.C., so slowly there is positive change happening and I think that speaks well for the role and the advocacy that lots of people that don’t get any recognition that are out there doing every day.”

Albright pointed to the recent report about racism in B.C.’s health care system and said that systems in Canada need to continually re-examine its goals and objectives, and there is a lot of work still to do.

“This town has not arrived, there’s lots of issues and we’ve got to work together but I believe in progress and I prefer to be in the boardroom rather than outside, that’s my style, everybody is different.”

In his role with the Kermode Friendship Centre, Albright made sure the organization was run smoothly. He had regular meetings with the board, community and other organizations. He was responsible for contract management, hiring staff and making sure dollars were spent properly.

“It’s an opportunity to do lots of things and there’s all sorts of skills that you need and you need to be patient and of course, again lots of our people are marginalized and all of us suffer the effects of residential schools we’re always delivering things in that context,” he said.

“I believe that we’re not victims anymore, we try to promote that we are survivors and that experience that we had teaches us.”

Albright said he is proud of his colleagues’ work, skills and vision during his time with the friendship centre. He also pointed to his role in the building of the centre’s new home on Park Ave., which used to be a plot of undeveloped land.

“I came along and actually out of my MBA we had to do a final project, so I wanted to make it meaningful so I thought ‘well maybe we could develop this piece of land,’” he said.

Albright’s study resulted in the Kermode Friendship Centre’s daycare and led to a total of 18,000 square feet of space tailored for the centre’s specific programs.

“That’s just an example of the team that I’ve been a part of from the board to the staff to all the people in the community that helped us develop this amazing building where we can deliver programs to people.”

But it’s not all business.

“The staff know that I’m a lousy karaoke singer, a few years ago just for fun I bought an Elvis costume so I put it on at Halloween and just entertain the staff and I like to think that I’m funny.”

He likes to walk and run to raise awareness for different issues, like missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and recently decided he wanted to get better at cooking.

“So I’ve been trying to do that, I’m just a normal guy, I just like to chill, and work for me, yes it’s got stressful moments but a lot of times it gave me a lot of satisfaction for who I am as a native person to be able to do the work.”

“It’s mixed emotions of course, I’ve got roots in this community. Sometimes I feel really excited about it and sometimes I feel sadness because it was such a rewarding opportunity in this community,” Albright said of leaving.

“I love what I do, and there’s lots of gas in the gas tank so I’m really excited about the opportunity and who knows, I think the sky’s the limit.”

Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News