A modern day warrior

* Originally published by Lakeland College on March 10, 2020. Re-published with their permission.  

Danny Bruno’s Lakeland College experience inspires him to make a difference every day.

As a carpentry instructor for The Indigenous Offender Employment Project at the Pê Sâkâstêw Centre, a minimum-security correctional facility, in Mâskwâcîs, Alta. (90 kilometres south of Edmonton), Bruno is equipping ‘adult learners’ with usable skills to transition from incarceration to the working world.

“In six weeks, I teach them a pre-employment carpentry course. It’s so easy for me to teach because it’s similar to what I learned in my first- and second-year modules at Lakeland. I’m able to use my Lakeland experience and education to help others better their lives,” says the journeyman, who completed his carpentry periods from 2015-2018 at Lakeland’s Vermilion campus.

As he mastered woodcraft and other valuable carpentry skills, Bruno says he treasures the lessons he learned from his Lakeland instructors, whom he continues to seek mentorship from today.

“My instructor Trevor (Provick) saw a lot of potential in me. He taught me that it's okay to fail as long as I fail forward. I learned that mistakes happen, I won’t ace every exam, and I’m not going to have every day go my way, because there's always something going on outside of school. I need to keep trying and persisting.”

As a student, Bruno describes himself as a struggling learner, who would stay after class to catch up on assignments and seek additional support. Bruno says his Lakeland instructors took the time to understand which kind of learning technique would best suit him.

“I had a tendency of not showing my work, just skipping to the results. Then, my instructor Curtis Cassibo said if he looked in my car, he might find a mess. He helped me understand that I live with not being organized in various areas of my life. I started to take control of that by being accountable. I realized why I have to show my work so that I can catch where I went wrong and steer myself to the right path. From that point on, I would stay late after class and study. I'd reread each module, so I would have it all memorized for my exams.” All of his hard work paid off when Bruno received the Cam Macfarlane award for outstanding achievement.

Beyond the academic relationships with his instructors, Bruno says he appreciates the compassion he received when he had two family members pass away during his time at Lakeland. He recalls John Wilkinson pulling him aside, seeing him in tears, and encouraging him to take time off if he needed it.

It’s these Lakeland experiences that not only have Bruno keep in touch with his instructors but inspires him to stay in this line of work.

“They helped me develop my lesson plans, provided me with project ideas, and so much more. They also care about everything I'm doing. There are times during my 50-minute work commute, Trevor Provick and I will chat over the phone about my workday. He also keeps me updated on the national building code and if there are changes in the program modules. He's like my secret weapon,” Bruno shares.

Throughout his technical training at Lakeland, Bruno says working for his previous employer made him overcome prejudices about his Indigenous heritage. He says he realized he needed to find an employer that saw his potential and appreciated his skills. Now, working at Pê Sâkâstêw Healing Lodge, Bruno says the confidence Lakeland gave him and the hard work he put in is finally paying off.

“It's a life-changing experience for me to see the men I teach take what they learn, put the work in, and then transition into the working world. It’s special when they call me to tell me that they found a job as well,” Bruno says.

Bruno adds that working at the Healing Lodge has allowed him to keep up with his culture, as he is able to participate in ceremonial sweats, smudges, and Powwows routinely, as it is encouraged at his workplace. He also volunteers his time and carpentry talents to Samson First Nation in Maskwacis, fixing major housing problems.

“There have been times where I have felt like I’m consistently doing warranty work, but working at the men’s prison, I feel like I can show the value of what it means to be a strong Indigenous man who provides for his household, which means being a modern-day warrior. I can lead by example, as words carry very little weight. Most importantly what I learned from pursuing my dream at Lakeland College is that it’s my responsibility to use my skills towards helping others in need.”

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