Indigenous Trades Workers: Forced to trade sovereignty for jobs?

By Daniel Tseghay

On December 9th, the Industry Training Authority (ITA) announced a plan to expand the involvement of Indigenous workers in the skilled trades. careers in a variety of ways., This means including Indigenous peoples into the development of programs with the aim of making training for the trade industry more accessible.

The ITA works with employers, employees, labour representatives, training providers and government in British Columbia to manage credentials in the trades industry.

Construction of a pithouse blocking the path of pipelines at the Unist’ot’en Camp on Wet’suwet’en territories

In a press release, the ITA notes an upcoming labour shortage because of B.C.’s aging population. Their report, Aboriginal Initiatives Skills Training Plan 2015-18, details a skills training plan for the industry and also identifies a group of potential workers.

The report makes its intentions clear from the start: “Labour market projections of the B.C. workforce identify significant employment opportunities in the skilled trades due to the impending retirements of older workers, as well as new opportunities generated from current and proposed projects.” As the report goes on to read: “In particular, there are several major development projects around the growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry involving pipelines and marine terminals across northern B.C. These major projects provide numerous employment opportunities for local workers, including the Aboriginal workforce in the province.”

While the report points out that its project is consistent with the goals set out in the provincial government’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, particularly in increasing the number of Indigenous trades workers by 15,000 over the next 10 years, it leaves other issues untouched. For instance, the LNG industry is widely understood to be ecologically damaging, and inconsistent with the province’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act (GGRTA), which set targets for reducing greenhouse gases by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020. Also, many Indigenous communities have opposed LNG because of concerns over how their lands will be used in the extraction process. Lax Kw’alaams members have already challenged LNG development. The Wet’suwet’en, Nee Tahi Buhn, Burns Lake Band and Skin Tyee Nation have also opposed the pipelines that would have to go through their territories to transfer natural gas.

“This plan will help continue the momentum that ITA’s Aboriginal Initiatives has gained since its inception in 2007,” Gary McDermott, Director of Aboriginal Initiatives with the ITA has said. “ITA looks forward to building and strengthening new and existing relationships and providing services that will grow future opportunities for Aboriginal communities across the province.”

The real question now is, will the ITA initiative create long-term employment opportunities for B.C. Indigenous population? And most importantly, are these employment and industry goals environmentally sustainable? These are concerns that must be tended to in the plan to build a more inclusive economy.


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