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
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.”