Four years ago, she couldn’t even turn on a computer — let alone operate one properly — and she was only vaguely familiar with the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada.
But these days, Red River College grad Sharon Fletcher is not only 100% computer-savvy, she’s helping to shine a light on one of the darkest periods of Aboriginal history through her work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
Fletcher, 34, has been working as a hairdresser since she was a teenager (she got her licence midway through Grade 12, and still does hair on the side), but in 2007 decided to broaden her horizons by enrolling in RRC’s Computer Applications for Business program.
“When I first took the course, I was completely computer-illiterate,” says Fletcher, who currently works as the Financial Officer at the TRC’s national headquarters on Main Street. “While everyone else was logging on their computers, I was the only one in class trying to figure out how to turn the thing on.”
Fletcher — who at the time was balancing her busy course load with her salon duties and her school-aged son — quickly got the hang of computers, not to mention countless other marketable skills. In addition to the computer-related courses — which covered business document writing, accounting, and basic office procedures and software — Fletcher also received a crash course in Aboriginal history, via the program’s Aboriginal Culture and Issues class.
“We learned a lot about residential schools and what happened to people there, which gives me a real advantage today, because that’s what the Commission is all about — getting those stories from the survivors of residential schools,” explains Fletcher, who took her Computer Applications for Business program through RRC’s School of Indigenous Education.
“I’d never really grown up in a ‘traditionally’ Native home, at least not culture-wise. It’s kind of divided — my dad is white, and my mom is Native — so being in the Aboriginal Cultures and Issues class, and having the chance to get to know my roots, I really enjoyed that.”
The expertise certainly came in handy when Fletcher was hired as a receptionist by the Commission, which was organized in the wake of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to document accounts from survivors, families, communities and anyone else affected by the IRS experience.
Within a year, Fletcher had already risen through the TRC ranks, moving quickly from the receptionist desk to a stint as a travel coordinator, where she booked trips and organized meetings and conferences for senior management. Most recently, she added expense claims to her to-do list, paving the way for her latest appointment to Finance Officer, a position she’s held since February.
“I was getting a little bored, so I started going around the office asking people if they needed help with their work,” says Fletcher.
“I love learning new things — I don’t like to be in one spot, and I don’t like to be bored. And with it being a government job, I think it’s especially important to gain as many skills as you can, because it opens up so many doors.”
In addition to honing her office skills, Fletcher has also had a chance to learn more about the devastating impact of residential schools on Canada’s aboriginal population. Last summer, she attended the TRC’s first-ever national convention at The Forks, and as a receptionist, she often served as the first line of response when residential school survivors would call to share their experiences.
“I would have survivors calling up and just spilling their stories right away,” says Fletcher.
“I would get choked up, because a lot of it was so disturbing. And I know in our Aboriginal Cultures and Issues class, there were a few times when there wasn’t a dry eye in the classroom.”
Fletcher says her self-starting nature served her well while a student at Red River College, though she says she also benefitted from the support of her classmates, and from the nine-to-five structure of the program itself.
“There are times when it’s going to be hard, but consistency is the thing — rules, routines, and sticking with it,” she says. “A lot of people want to skip a day here or there, but you have to be consistent and treat it like a job. In the end, it’s so rewarding.”
Click here to learn more about RRC’s Computer Applications for Business program.
Click here for more information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.