Justin Ferbey, deputy minister of economic development Yukon, said that hiring and working with First Nations workers and communities is an important part of life in the Yukon during a 2017 geoscience forum panel discussion in Whitehorse on Nov. 21, 2017. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

For mining companies, hiring Indigenous workers ‘about nation-building’ panel hears

‘Profit is not a dirty word’

Mining companies in the Yukon can attract and maintain a First Nations labour force by employing “intelligent job design” to accommodate traditional values, says one expert.

Hector Campbell, chair of the board of directors for the Nacho Nyak Dun Development Corporation, was part of a panel on Indigenous business at the 2017 Geoscience Forum and Trade Show Nov.21.

In response to a question about “capacity problems” facing mining companies, Campbell said that the typical structure of a fly-in camp can be a deterrent for First Nations workers.

Fly-in camp culture creates “tremendous family stress” and “makes it really difficult for employees at that camp to live their traditional lifestyle,” he said.

The inherent structure of camp life takes First Nations people away from their families and communities, often at key food-gathering times in the summer and fall. This makes it difficult for them to take part in traditional hunting and fishing, which have important social, sustenance and cultural roles within their communities, he said.

Mining companies need to “recognize the need for time off” during certain culturally important periods of the year, such as the salmon run, if they want to maintain a successful First Nations workforce, Campbell said.

“Fly-in, fly-out camps are a difficult adjustment” for some First Nations workers, Campbell said. Companies need to understand these people will need time off during hunting and fishing seasons and “build that into the job design.”

“You have to flip the paradigm around and not force-fit people into jobs that won’t work for them.… You have to make jobs fit the people, not people fit the jobs.”

“First Nations want and need to define their lives through traditional values,” he said.

John McConnell, president of Victoria Gold, said the benefit in hiring First Nations workers include creating a pool of “steady workers” who “will be around for a long time.”

“It just makes sense…. I’d rather have employees who live in the area than fly someone in from Newfoundland,” he said.

Having First Nation workers on these mining projects is about more than job creation, Campbell said. It’s about “building trust, responsibility and sharing this natural resource that’s about to be extracted.”

Justin Ferbey, Yukon’s deputy minister of economic development, said hiring First Nation workers is an important part of life in the Yukon.

“When you look at the culture of the Yukon…. This is a territory of collaboration,” he said.

Campbell acknowledged that sometimes the skills needed for a project are “sometimes just not there” in a given community. When companies invest time and energy in training local people through on-the-job apprenticeships, however, it has socio-economic benefits and improves the labour pool.

“If you do it right, you reduce your labour costs and take advantage of local knowledge, which can save you money,” Campbell said.

“It’s about nation-building — and I don’t use that word lightly,” he said. “It’s about moving self-governing First Nations towards self-sufficiency.”

“Profit is not a dirty word.”

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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