A job fair in Bella Bella in late February offered Heiltsuk members opportunities for jobs and training at sea with Heiltsuk Horizon Maritime Services.
It had followed a recruitment event in Vancouver a month earlier that was the first in an effort to ready a local workforce for a potential $8-million in infrastructure contracts over the next four years. And a Marine Infrastructure Standing Offer awarded last year puts the Heiltsuk majority-owned company first on the list for Oceans and Fisheries Canada contracts on the Central Coast.
The offer is good news for the partnership formed by the Heiltsuk with global marine and offshore company Horizon
Maritime in 2018. After really taking the time to develop the partnership, it’s paying off, says Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett. “For us, it means a lot that we’re able to take this next step to get people to work for Heiltsuk Horizon.”
She says the company is recruiting for positions starting in March and is also informing community members and high school students about training opportunities for careers at sea. People are needed who have existing skills or the desire to train as project managers, deck-workers, barge and tug operators, engine room crew, and in excavating, pile-driving, rock-drilling and a range of trades positions.
Candidates will also receive training in emergency response to support plans for an Indigenous Marine Response Centre (IMRC) in Heiltsuk territory. Taking advantage of programs offered by the Coast Guard, BC Institute of Technology, and the province, Chief Slett says, “we’re trying to leverage as much as we can to achieve our vision of the IMRC.”
IMRC Technical Director Diana Chan says the future response centre will employ staff equipped to respond to a range of scenarios – including search and rescue, basic firefighting and small vessel towing. “You hope that people train for emergencies and never have to use their skills,” says Chan. “Between emergencies, skilled staff could also support resource monitoring and other types of work.”
The Heiltsuk met with Transport Deputy Minister Michael Keenan in December to agree to a phased approach to creating the IMRC. After a first strategic planning phase, plans will be put into action on the ground with a community response team ready to respond to any type of marine pollution incident in the territory.
Councillor Megan Humchitt sits at a Heiltsuk joint marine response table with Transport Canada and Canadian Coast Guard. She’s excited about the progress made since talks began last May. “From when we started meeting to where we are now is really encouraging,” Humchitt enthuses. “I feel like there’s a lot of collaboration happening at the table and a lot of creative planning for a vision that we all have for marine safety on the coast.”
She says the Heiltsuk want to ensure full-time work for future IMRC staff and to engage master mariners in the process. “There’s a need for Indigenous mariners to be empowered to protect the territory in ways that are effective and that they understand.”
In the wake of the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill in Heiltsuk waters, Humchitt says the table is also finding creative ways to improve communications between the Coast Guard and Indigenous Nations. “When the Nathan E. Stewart incident happened in our territory, we were largely uninformed,” she says. “We never want to feel the helplessness that we felt in response to that spill.”