‘No one is going to do it for us’
A First Nations trade school is on the horizon after Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic met with international aid agencies, mining companies and education officials on Nov. 16.
“Canada is opening immigration due to a shortage of skilled workers and the mining sector is bringing skilled workers from all over the country — two weeks in, two weeks out,” Kakegamic said after meeting with about 30 international aid, mining sector and education representatives at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay. “We have a lot of able bodies walking around in our territory. No one is going to do it for us; we are the ones that have to provide that avenue to (ensure) our students have the aspiration to go that route.”
Kakegamic said the trade school would provide an option for high school students who are interested in a career in trades.
“If they have a reachable goal (in trades), that would motivate them to attendance, that would motivate them to apply more in literacy and numeracy,” Kakegamic said. “That will give them the motivation to excel, and they can excel if you give them an opportunity.”
Kakegamic said the trade school would be focused on a variety of trades, such as carpentry, mechanical and other skilled trades, in addition to mining-specific trades.
“Not every student (needs) to go to college or university or the academic route,” Kakegamic said. “We should make it possible that the apprenticeship route is a very good route for some students. I hear the pay is excellent, so this is another avenue our students can take.”
Kakegamic began looking into the development of the First Nations trade school after a Sioux Lookout Area Chiefs Annual General Meeting resolution was passed on Nov. 7 to support Northern Nishnawbe Education Council in the development of a trades-based pilot project.
Ottawa-based philanthropist Dave Smith, who helped establish the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre and the Ottawa Technical Learning Centre, said the trade centre is an “incredible” project.
“I think it can happen,” Smith said. “We can’t sit around and have a thousand meetings. We’ve got to plant the seed and make it go.”
Smith raised about $150 million for a wide variety of projects in his community, including about $1.5 million for the technical learning centre.
“We put 22 shops into that school,” Smith said. “We had the teachers make wish lists. There were 42 wish lists in the cafeteria and I invited 600 people and 502 showed up. The first night we raised $360,000 and the rest came in more cash and in kind.”
Smith said it is possible to motivate people to make an investment in younger people.
Richard Morris, education advisor with Independent First Nations Alliance, said the trade school would “definitely” be a good idea for the IFNA communities.
“We spend too much money paying outside contractors and consultants to do the work that our people should be doing,” Morris said, noting housing inspectors as one example of people who are brought in to do work in the communities. “We can teach our people construction trades to know what a good house looks like, what is required to ensure that a house is safe and properly constructed. We need electricians, we need good mechanics.”
Morris recalled one time when two heavy equipment mechanics were brought in to repair school buses at $22,000 a week.
“That’s an incredible amount of money,” Morris said.
Morris said there are people in the communities who can do mechanical repairs, but they do not have the official qualifications to be hired for those types of jobs.
“For example, a friend of mine works as an airplane mechanic and he can fly a plane,” Morris said. “I asked him why he doesn’t get his pilot’s licence or mechanic’s paper. He was reluctant to go because he said his English was not as good. That was his barrier.”
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