Trainees ‘took on the challenge’

·2 min read

If you’re going to make a living repairing high-voltage electrical equipment, sooner or later you’re going to have to learn how to climb a hydro pole.

Some may find that prospect a bit towering, but not Jamie Keeash.

The mother of a young boy is among a group of recent graduates of a Wataynikaneyap Power training program aimed at getting Indigenous women into the utility’s workforce.

Program organizers who noticed a shortage of female job applicants made that possible by providing the supports they would need to participate in the 14-week training course.

“Having child care included with this training has made it possible for me to pursue my career,” Keeash said in a Wataynikaneyap news release. “Having my young son Kingston with me has kept me going.”

The “hands-on” training, which started in August at Quetico’s Conference Centre near Atikokan and finished at Fort William First Nation “is the only course of its kind in Canada, specifically organized for First Nation women from Wataynikaneyap Power’s owner communities,” the release said.

The graduates are from the remote North Caribou Lake, Pikangikum, and Bearskin Lake First Nations.

Said fellow graduate Shirley King: “I want to work towards an apprenticeship and keep going with my career in the power-line trades. It’s encouraging to see more women being part of the construction.”

Majority-owned by 24 Northwestern Ontario First Nations, the Wataynikaneyap project is to install 1,800 kilometres of transmission line to connect 17 remote Indigenous communities northwest of Thunder Bay to the provincial electricity grid.

An earlier project report says that the grid connection will save $3.4 billion in diesel costs; the communities that stand to benefit are currently powered by diesel generators.

Of the training program for women applicants, Wataynikaneyap Power board chair Frank McKay said: “It’s not easy to be away from your family, friends, and community while undertaking a course of this length.”

The trainees “took on the challenge and are now in positions to rise up and become leaders in their communities,” McKay added.

Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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