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First Nations construction crews learning, prospering

Workers put in 12-hour days, six days/week
building Olympic Nordic centre venues

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By Vivian Moreau

The first day seven First Nations carpentry apprentices showed up to start work at the Olympic Nordic centre site in the Callaghan Valley their superintendent told them a lot of people in the industry didn’t expect them to last the week, but as their boss he intended to make sure they did.

“I said ‘It’s my job to help you. We’re partners in this thing and we’re not going to let you fail. If you struggle we’ll just regroup and we’ll come back at it again,’” said Martin McBride of Vancouver-based Mutual Construction.

Five of the seven workers have persevered, working 12-hour shifts up to six days a week since April to bring their $10 million contract for building 16 kilometres of biathlon and cross-country competition infrastructure in on time and under budget.

The apprentices are part of a construction partnership venture between the Lil’wat (Mount Currie) First Nation and two Whistler-area forestry and logging companies. In their second year of building roads, bridges, firing lines, and trails the cooperative venture between seasoned non-First Nations and keen First Nations workers is one of VANOC’s success stories.

The project is part of a Shared Legacies Agreement signed by the four host nations and VANOC that includes opportunities for First Nations contractors in 2010 venue construction.

Resource Business Ventures, owned by the Lil’wat Nation in partnership with Whistler’s CRB Logging and Creekside Resources Incorporated, was awarded the heavy equipment contract for building biathlon and cross-country event infrastructure. Squamish Nation, with New Haven Construction, was awarded a second contract for constructing buildings at the Nordic centre site.

Steve Miles is owner of CRB Logging and said the time was right for a partnership that he and Lil’wat’s lead negotiator, Lyle Leo, had talked about for years.

“I could see that once the band started to flex their muscles to get their (rights) back it would be a good opportunity to form partnerships to help make what they were going after more sustainable.”

Twenty-three workers, aged 20-30, earn up to $24 an hour in heavy equipment construction work building the biathlon and cross-country trails at the site 10 kilometres south-west of Whistler. Another seven work through sub-contractor Mutual Construction.

Leo said the gains for workers have not just been monetary.

“We’ve provided them the opportunity to access work in a very competitive field where they would not otherwise have the opportunity to join in a construction company that would be confident in them stepping forward and jumping on a $250,000 or $500,000 piece of equipment.”

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