Manitoba Keewantinowi Okimakanak (MKO) partnered with Vale and IndSpire (formerly the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation) to host a three-day workshop at the Ma Mow We Tak Friendship Centre March 20-22.
The workshop was aimed at breaking down borders and barriers, in hopes of integrating aboriginal people in to the mining workforce through education on the industry and requirements to become a part of it.
The opening ceremonies got off to a slow start, thanks largely to icy weather keeping a few expected speakers, including MKO Grand Chief David Harper, from being able to get in to Thompson.
Mayor Tim Johnston welcomed those in attendance to a “beautiful spring day in Thompson”, thanking those who made it in safely. Johnston spoke to the importance of the workshop to those in attendance, with regards to the opportunity before them.
“This conference is about building communities without borders and I truly believe there’s never been a better time for you people to do what you’re doing in terms of creating opportunities for northern communities,” said Johnston.
Ryan Land, manager of corporate affairs for Vale’s Manitoba Operations, spoke to the need for a Northern workforce and the gap that has long stood between Vale and Northern communities.
“On one side we have Vale, and there there’s this big gap and on the other side we have our partners, our outlying communities,” said Land, “and we hear our neighbours saying, we want jobs and we’re saying, we’ve got jobs. We’re (Vale) chronically 150 people short, today we’re 150 people short. We also need to hire a transitional workforce of about 350 people.”
Land spoke to the need to build a bridge between that gap and come together and meet in the middle.
“We’re here to listen and take suggestions on how we can walk this path together,” said Land.
The theme for the workshop was careers in mining, with the entire second day dedicated to the topic.
“Training the trainers” is the format employed by IndSpire, and facilitator Cheri Maracle educated those in attendance on careers in the mining industry, so that they may take back their knowledge to educate groups of youth.
“It’s one thing to just hand them a manual and say here go and do it,” said Maracle, “it takes a lot of people a few times to get the hang of it. If they have hands-on experience here and are learning it themselves, then they can take it back to their communities and do exactly what I’m doing today.”
Attendees all received information packages, workbooks and DVDs to take in the exact same class they would be taking back to teach their students.
The workshop was received with enthusiasm and optimism by those in attendance, and was evident by extroverted attitudes and eagerness to participate in group and team- based games.
Leona McIvor was one “student” taking in the workshop and spoke to its importance.
“There are some aboriginal students out there who have engineering degrees and don’t have jobs because they don’t know about the opportunity,” said McIvor, “it’s really about the opportunity, if they have the education they have the right to work in these jobs.”
Cheryl Linklater, another attendee, backed up McIvor’s sentiments by mentioning the importance aboriginal people filling jobs in the mining industry.
“This is where we’re from and where we’ve always lived,” said Linklater, “we’re not going anywhere so we might as well be working here.”
The three-day workshop saw upwards of 30 people attend each day, all of whom will be able to take what they learned and pass it along down to the future workforce in the North.