LAKELAND - A partnership between Portage College and Cenovus Energy has prepared 14 students to begin entering the construction workforce this year. The program is part of a five-year $50 million initiative by Cenovus announced in the spring of 2021, aiming to tackle the housing crisis in six of Alberta’s northeastern Indigenous communities.
In September, the 24-week Construction and Trades Readiness program offered at the college and funded by Cenovus, graduated the second class of students. The program is aiming to support the company’s Indigenous Housing Initiative across those six communities that border many of Cenovus’s operating sites.
With the unique educational opportunity and partnership that has given the students hands-on experience, the program is helping build stronger communities, said Chenée Miller, the program coordinator at Portage College.
“We are so grateful to Cenovus for choosing us to be a part of this initiative. It is such an honour to have been the institution chosen to work with them and build stronger connections with Indigenous communities in our surrounding areas.”
The communities included in the program are Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Chard Métis Nation, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake First Nations, Conklin Métis (Local 193) and Heart Lake First Nation.
Three ceremonies were held from Sept. 14 to 16 in Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Cold Lake and Beaver Lake First Nation to commemorate the class of 14.
In each Indigenous community, the students take on a legacy project that will live on in their communities for generations. In the Beaver Lake area, the students built a greenhouse in 2021 and completed a workshop this year, said graduate Emma Lungul.
Lungul first enrolled in the program when it launched in 2021 and opted to return this year to build on her construction skills and help provide infrastructure in the Beaver Lake community.
“We learned different techniques and skills from instructors,” she says.
“It was nice learning all those skills from Mike Broadbent who instructed our project for the greenhouse last year, and then this year Rick, who helped us build the workshop.”
The theory lessons and variety of hands-on skills during the 24-week program have been incredibly useful, she explained, which led her to develop a keen interest in carpentry.
“We did a lot of different construction work. We did concrete, drywall... The other ones were fun to do and learn but carpentry is the one for me.”
Lungul looks forward to seeing the next class participate and help build projects in Indigenous communities, along with joining the list of proud graduates.
“Graduation means a lot because it shows and proves... that you can do it and there are more ways to help out your community….within these two years I had a great time and having the opportunity was great.”
Moving forward, Lungul is now working toward pursuing a career in construction.
“Right now, I’m in the process of trying to get my blue book and go see a journeyman and get my hours in for this year and last year. Then, from there, I’ll continue on working. In April we’re doing our government exams and if I do that, then I can figure out the next steps.”
Contrbuting to vital skills and services
As a college institution that is helped build skills that the graduating class will carry with them throughout their lives to support their communities is a privilege, Miller explained.
“The idea behind the program is to encourage people from the Nations to become tradespeople. Historically, on the Nations, tradespeople are brought from the outside, and ideally it would be wonderful to have folks from their own communities building their own homes,” which is one of the reasons that makes the program so special, said Miller.
The program has a capacity of 24 students with four students in each community to support the one-on-one training each year, Miller says. The program is moving in the right direction and providing life-long opportunities for the eager students.
“There is a housing crisis, so the need is incredible and to be able to have young students who are passionate about construction and they get to participate in this program and then return to their communities to help work on homes or even build houses,” is moving, she said.
Portage College’s Construction and Trades Readiness class of 2022:
Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation - Christian Boucher and Caiden Morice
Chard Métis Nation - Odell Fontaine and Chelsea Lacombe
Conklin Métis (Local 193) - Michael Desjarlais
Heart Lake Cree Nation - Dillon Francis
Cold Lake First Nation - Teddy Grandbois, Patti Wheaton and Robin Martial
Beaver Lake Cree Nation- Quentin Cardinal, Emma Lungul, Drelea Frenchman, Willow Cardinal and Chad Cardinal