[Saskatchewan mining sector] Reaching out to aboriginals – by Joel Schlesinger (Saskatoon StarPhoenix – May 22, 2015)


Lyle Acoose grew up on Ochapowace Cree Nation never realizing PotashCorp operated a major mine only 45 minutes away from his community in southeast Saskatchewan.

That is until he actually began work with the firm a few years back.

“I knew there was a mine in Rocanville, and I played hockey against kids from the community when I was younger, but until I got a summer job I didn’t really know anything about PotashCorp or its impact on the communities in which it operates,” says the human resources specialist with the Saskatoon-based multinational mining firm, the largest producer of potash in the world.

“At the time I didn’t know anybody from my community who worked for the mine, but that certainly has changed.”

Today the company of more than 5,000 employees – mostly in Saskatchewan – pays much more attention to ensuring it has a high profile in the province’s aboriginal communities. And that includes a formalized ambassador program among its First Nation and Métis employees to get out the message that there’s a bright future in the province’s mining industry. In fact, Saskatchewan’s mining industry – among the largest in Canada – is focused more than ever on reaching out to the aboriginal communities because in order to grow it needs to tap into this increasingly important labour pool, says Leanne Bellegarde, director of aboriginal strategy at PotashCorp.

“The demographics of the province are really compelling,” she says. “There are about 1.1 million people here and about 17 per cent of the population is First Nations and Métis, but that’s projected to be about a third of the population by 2025.”

Bellegarde, who is First Nations, previously worked at the University of Saskatchewan’s Edwards School of Business where she was director of aboriginal initiatives before PotashCorp seconded her for a six-month term to develop its aboriginal strategy. That was almost five years ago.

Like other major employers in the province, the company faces a constant challenge finding qualified workers, particularly when it comes to trades and professionals. Consequently, it often looks out of province for new hires.

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