Collaboration key for First Nations seeking share of shipbuilding work

Source: Cape Breton Post
By: Ryan Van Horne
Published: June 11, 2013

HALIFAX — East-West collaboration is the key to getting aboriginal communities working on the national shipbuilding program.

Four First Nations community leaders from British Columbia are in Nova Scotia this week and went on a tour Tuesday of the Irving Shipyard with representatives from the Nova Scotia Aboriginal Employment Partnership.

“They contacted us because they’re interested in ensuring that there is aboriginal participation in the shipbuilding contract,” said Owen Fitzgerald, executive director of the partnership. “We all see it as a great opportunity.”

Chief Lucinda Phillips of Lil’wat First Nation, a board member for the First Nations Employment Society in Vancouver, is one of the delegation of four.

“I wanted to get to get an idea of what the First Nations are doing out here,” Phillips said.

After attending a briefing in Halifax and getting a tour of the Halifax shipyard, the delegation from B.C. left for Cape Breton, where it will visit Membertou and Eskasoni today, and attend meetings in Paq’tnkek on Thursday before flying home Friday.

Jay Mearns, a job coach with the First Nations Employment Society was interested in learning more about the technical aspects of the shipbuilding program and the requirements contractors need to meet.

“There’s a huge marine industry on the Pacific coast from Prince Rupert in the north down to Victoria,” Mearns said.

While it’s mostly repair yards, there is some shipbuilding, and with some training the workers could be in a position to get work.

“There is huge aboriginal participation in that industry,” Mearns said.

That’s not the case in Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Aboriginal Employment Partnership would like to change that, said Alex Paul, their director of training.

“Unlike our West Coast partners, we don’t have a lot of First Nations in around where this activity is going to take place, so geographically there is a bit of a challenge.”

Fitzgerald said, “Both organizations have considerable experience and we feel we can learn much from each other.”