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Campus Life  

OC supports Gitxaala Nation with vital trades training for economic and cultural growth

Gixtaala Nation carpentry grad

In one northern village, Indigenous cultural needs and massive construction projects combined to create demand for specialized Okanagan College Trades training to support community members.

Located on the north coast of British Columbia, the Gitxaala Nation’s main community is in Kitkatla. It identified the need for skilled trades people several years ago, as projects such as the LNG Canada in Kitimat and port expansion in Prince Rupert were announced.

But it was a smaller project closer to home that inspired Gitxaala Nation to empower its members with carpentry training.

“In the village, Lach Klan, the plan is to build a traditional longhouse as a cultural project. We're wanting to provide carpenters the opportunity to build a Kitkatla project that is going to be there as an important part of their community for years and years to come,” said Evie Nance, Gitxaala CCDP Employment and Training Manager.

The BC Regional Council of Carpenters, together with Bird Construction, the Gitxaala Nation, JGC Fluor (the prime contractor for LNG Canada) and the Industry Training Authority, collaborated last fall to develop an eight-week Introduction to Carpentry and Formwork Program. The program was designed to equip Gitxaala Nation members with skills to become carpenter apprentices. Ten individuals, four of whom are women, successfully completed the program and are now employed with Bird on the LNG Canada (LNGC) project in Kitimat.

Progression to the next level of carpentry training was essential, though, and Nance began hunting for an organization that could bring the education to the community.

“I did my research on who had the best track record working with Indigenous communities and Okanagan College was one of the institutions mentioned,” Nance explained.

OC Carpentry Instructor Kelly Brochu travelled to the northern community to lead Level 1 apprenticeship training to the 10 students, who ranged in age from 18 to 44 – including people with grandchildren. It was a smaller class due to pandemic classroom size restrictions, and the group quickly bonded over carpentry lessons and challenging life lessons as well.

“The students were getting hit with disasters like family emergencies, apprenticeship EI funding didn’t come through, a death in the family,” Nance explained. “Despite it all, the students still showed up. They still had smiles on their faces, laughing and teasing each other. They said it was really hard, but they pulled through.”

At the graduation ceremony, key stakeholders such as representatives from the BC Regional Council of Carpenters who initially visited with the class during their intro program, returned to find an entirely different group of individuals.

“The comments they were telling me were so heartening. They couldn’t believe how mature the students were; not only did they become tradespeople, but they had developed incredible emotional maturity,” Nance said.

“Apprenticeship training is always multi-faceted, as it teaches apprentices skills but also about the importance of resiliency,” said Teresa Kisilevich, Associate Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship at Okanagan College. “It was an honour to deliver training for Gitxaala Nation in their territory and be part of the students’ transformation.”

The next step for Gitxaala will be to offer Level 2 Carpenter Apprentice training, which will be held in August. For Nance, choosing a training provider is an easy decision.

“It's going to be Okanagan College, because I want it done right,” she says.



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