Co-op Q&A: Rebecca Gunderson

Wall-to-wall maps in the office where Rebecca worked were used for reference in dealing with treaty land parcel data

Where did you work?

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (formerly Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada/AANDC).

What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?

I worked for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which is a branch of the Federal Government. I specifically worked in Treaties and Aboriginal Government, or TAG, for short, which, as the name suggests, is the directorate which focusses its efforts on treaty negotiations.

I worked as a Junior Analyst in Financial Arrangements and Cost Sharing. Interestingly, I had gone into the job thinking that I would be doing policy analysis but I was very wrong. I ended up informally filling some of the duties of a position which was vacant called a Cost Sharing Technician. Along with my B.A. in Geography, I am doing a certificate in Spatial Information Systems. The cost sharing technician is essentially a Spatial Information Systems position, so I used a lot of the skills I gained in my GIS classes.

In my job, I worked on using various programs, such as ArcGIS, to perform valuation on parcels of land being offered in treaties. This valuation was done so that the provincial and federal governments can share the costs of treaties and required both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

I also did other tasks such as updating population statistics for various First Nations across the province, writing drafts of documents to support cost-sharing arrangements, going to many, many, many meetings, and liaising with our counterparts in the Provincial government (namely, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation) as well as private consultants.

How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?

As mentioned, I am doing a certificate in Spatial Information Systems. In this certificate, you take courses which relate to producing maps and analyzing spatial data. For my job, I did land valuation and this involved using the quantitative and analytical skills I learned in many of these classes. Additionally, it required knowledge of the computer program, ArcGIS, which is what most GIS classes at SFU focus on as a medium though which spatial data can be manipulated and analyzed. My skills in ArcGIS came in to use in this regard and, in tandem, I learned more about effective data management.

Lastly, I think that I learned critical thinking skills in many of my human geography/planning courses which allowed me to make reasonably well-thought-out recommendations to my manager, and it helped me to look at different problems and think things through from more than just one perspective. I built on my critical thinking skills further as my work terms progressed seeing and listening to coworkers’ opinions and discussions.

What was your most memorable Co-op experience?

In a spur-of-the-moment turn of events, I got to go up to Fort St. John with a coworker for several days to visit one of the First Nation groups on their treaty land in Northern B.C.

After some direction miscommunications and general misfortune, the car I was traveling in ended up stuck in some very deep snow in the middle of the woods an hour and a half north of Fort St. John. The moment it got stuck, we lost all cellphone reception. We ended up having to trek through the forest in a fair amount of snow to find cellphone service so we could call the group we were visiting to come and find us. Naturally, I was in a dress (not recommended). The First Nations group we were meeting, after half an hour or so, was able to locate us in the woods and informed us that the path we were on was actually their wolf trapline. Gladly, I was not aware of this while we were lost. When I returned to work it was the talk of the office and I was known as the intern who got lost in the forest. Despite the misfortune (which could have been a lot worse had we run into the purported Canidae) it was an incredible and perspective-building experience and definitely one I will remember for a very long time.

Railroad tracks in the forest in a remote area outside Fort St. John where we got stuck in the snow

What have you learned through your Co-op experience?

I have learned essential skills involved in working in a governmental environment; for instance, how to follow reasonably strict procedures and how to communicate effectively within the public service. I have also honed in on my skills using ArcGIS, and effective record keeping and quantitative report writing in a professional context.

I think I have also gained a new perspective on First Nations issues and treaty-making in not only British Columbia, but across Canada. I have learned that things are not necessarily always black and white, and that there’s not always an obvious solution to resolving concerns. From outside the treaty process, it seems that claims should be resolved quickly and easily, but once you get working in that work environment, you realize how complex socially and historically treaty making is for all parties involved.

What advice do you have for future Co-op students?

Try and look for jobs that you’re interested in, and never be afraid of applying for something, even if you do not necessarily think that you’re experienced enough. I applied for this job and it was indicated on the job description that Master’s degrees were preferred. I managed to get the position and I’m only in my third year of my undergraduate degree and it was my first co-op experience. As the cliché goes, you never know if you don’t try! Plus, if you have a genuine interest in what you’re applying for, that usually shines through in your interview.

Lastly, try to have conversations with your coworkers and build good working relationships. It may help you in the future for applying for more jobs, and, of course, good social relationships add another dimension to your experience in the workplace and definitely make the day more enjoyable! You can learn a lot from conversations with your colleagues, and you can also share a lot of laughs along the way.