Sharing the land and wealth is possible when both sides work to understand each other’s concerns and desires
If Tawny Fortier ever needs a reminder as to why she is here, pulled over at the side of the road waiting out a whiteout snowstorm while on her way from her Kamloops home to her job in the Peace River gas fields, she just has to think of her daughter.
She left eight-year-old Kyra with her aunt several hours ago on the Kamloops First Nation reserve. If the storm lifts, she hopes to be at her room in a Dawson Creek boarding house by nightfall and at 4:20 a.m. next morning, she will be up and on her way to work as an apprentice electrician on a gas plant construction project.
Her determination is fuelled by a deep motivation to succeed. “Kyra is my biggest motivation for sure. It’s important for me to have a well-paying job to support both of us,” Fortier said in an telephone interview, after she had pulled over near Jasper until the storm ended. The Kamloops woman is halfway through her apprenticeship to becoming an electrician and is taking whatever job is required to make that dream a reality. She works two weeks on, one week off at the Peace River project.
Fortier is at the forefront of a fundamental change that has taken place in the relationship between resource development companies and First Nations in B.C. Her determination to be successful, to participate in the broader Canadian economy without giving up her aboriginal heritage is reflected across this province in the aspirations of First Nations to be partners in economic development within there traditional territories.
She is working in the gas sector right now, but it’s the mining industry that assisted her with her trades school training, part of a relatively new approach within the sector to engage with First Nations before even developing the plans for projects. And it’s in the mining industry, specifically New Gold’s New Afton mine near Kamloops, where she has her heart set on finding permanent work.
Fortier is one of 500 aboriginal people working today through a training program sponsored by the B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association, an organization set up largely by the province’s mining industry. The association paid for her living expenses so she could go to trades school.
The three-year-old association was formed to bridge the gap between the need for skills training and the jobs available in the mining sector, said Laurie Sterritt, association’s chief executive officer.
“These are not just labouring positions we are talking about. They are skilled jobs,” she said.
The mining industry is the largest employer of indigenous people in Canada, with six per cent of the workforce of aboriginal descent. At the New Afton mine, more than 20 per cent of the workforce are aboriginal, working at skilled jobs that can pay $85,000 a year.
Employment is one area where it’s win-win for both the First Nations and companies, said New Gold president Bob Gallagher. Besides New Afton, New Gold is also developing Blackwater Gold, a property on B.C.’s Nechako Plateau.
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