Webequie’s Angeline Shewaybick is looking forward to a career in mining after graduating with the highest marks in Oshki-Pimache-O-Win’s Mining Essentials program.
“I tried really hard to study because I really wanted to do well,” said Shewaybick, who was awarded a laptop computer for her high marks during the May 2 graduation ceremony in Webequie. “My goal after this is finishing my education and hopefully getting into the mining industry. That’s where I want to work — it’s so close to home.”
Although Shewaybick was the only woman in the 12-week pre-employment training program, she encouraged other women to consider mining as a career. “It was a great experience for me,” Shewaybick said. “All I can say is take it — it was a great experience and I’ve learned a lot and you don’t have to be a guy to do it.”
Shewaybick enjoyed the hands-on pre-trades training activities in the Cambrian College mobile trades training trailer and the week-long job shadowing placement at the Cliffs Esker Camp in the Ring of Fire. “It was more hands on and I really enjoyed that part,” Shewaybick said.
Alec Wabasse, Amos Jacob, Brandon Shewaybick, Cody Mekanak, Corey Neshinapaise, Dylan Jacob, Edgar Jacob, Lewis Sofea, Leroy Troutlake, Luke Meekis, Robert Jacob, Rudy Mekanak and Simon Shewaybick, all from Webequie, also graduated from the program.
”The hands-on training was very perfect for me because that is how I like to learn,” said Cody Mekanak. “I learned how to weld — arc weld and braising. I’m hoping to work in the mining industry with Cliffs (Natural Resources), hopefully nearby so I can have some downtime here when I am on break.”
Although the Cambrian College trailer was originally scheduled to travel over the winter road to Webequie for training in the community, poor winter road conditions forced a change of location to Constance Lake’s Eagles Earth facility, located about 489 kilometres east of Thunder Bay on Hwy. 11, where the students had a unique opportunity to learn together as a group.
“We moved as one unit, the whole students,” Mekanak said. “We were more closer to each other because we were living near each other.”
Mekanak plans to work on finishing his last year of high school over the next year.
“This whole course was life changing for me because I was on a different path before; now I’m setting everything straight.”
Held from Jan. 24 to mid-April, the program included 240 hours of classroom training in a portable classroom and 120 hours in the Cambrian College trailer.
“It was a challenge,” said Alec Wabasse, noting he had previously worked as a plumber and electrician. “I learned a lot (about) mechanics, plumbing and electrical.”
Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse said the graduates now have skills they can use in the future.
“I think it will be a good benefit for them in the future,” Wabasse said. “We need to bring training to our communities, even a ceremony like this to the community instead of going to urban centres where the community is not involved.”
Wabasse said the community-based graduation ceremony encourages other community members to pursue further education.
“I think it’s going to send a message to our young generation that we are moving forward,” Wabasse said. “It will encourage our young people to take a serious look at the future. Training initiatives are very important and we should continue to support those programs for the benefit of our communities.”
Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy also applauded Oshki for holding the graduation ceremony in Webequie.
“What we saw here is a step forward for all of us, not just those people here, not just the graduates, not only the community, but all of us First Nations people,” Beardy said. “I think we’re making a big step forward.”
Beardy said First Nations people need to have greater influence and control over how education services are delivered.
“Cultural identity is important so it has to happen in their own environment,” Beardy said. “I think that is where we are headed provincially, nationally. That is called Indian control of education: people decide what they want to learn, how it should be delivered and what they expect to get out of it.”
Co-owned by the Mining Industry Human Resources Council and the Assembly of First Nations, the program was funded in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.
“This is a great example of partnerships in action,” said David Zimmer, minister of Aboriginal Affairs. “The mining industry is changing. With an aging workforce, it’s critical we continue to attract qualified individuals.”
Cliffs’ objective in hosting the students at the Esker Camp was to provide them with an opportunity to learn about Cliffs’ potential operation in the Ring of Fire and to experience the operations of a remote mining camp.
“Cliffs Natural Resources is committed to working with First Nations communities to enhance current training programs, and develop new training options for these communities,” said Dana Byrne, vice president of Public Affairs at Cliffs. “With the development of the Cliffs Chromite Project, the Mining Essentials program is a wonderful opportunity for our company to work directly with First Nations students from surrounding communities.”
Cliffs plans to provide the 14 graduates with due consideration for open positions as its Ring of Fire mining project progresses to construction and operating phases.