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First Nation youth trained for linecutting opportunities

A shortage of linecutters in Ontario’s red-hot mineral exploration sector has turned into a lucrative opportunity for the province’s First Nations.

A shortage of linecutters in Ontario’s red-hot mineral exploration sector has turned into a lucrative opportunity for the province’s First Nations.

Overwhelmed by requests for linecutters from junior mining companies operating in northwestern Ontario, First Nation entrepreneur Fred Ice of Marten Falls turned to Thunder Bay’s Confederation College.

Ice’s company, Beaverhead Linecutting, didn’t have the people who were trained and equipped, “so we set up a curriculum and created a five-week training program,” said Confederation College training consultant Andrew Kane. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and other provincial ministries provided funding.

Junior mining companies exploring in Ontario’s Far North are encouraged to provide employment to residents of First Nation communities, but discovered that many of them lacked the appropriate certifications and weren’t qualified, said Ice. “So I thought this would be a good thing.”
Linecutting can be backbreaking work, but pays well – between $150 to $250 per kilometer, depending on the terrain. Armed with chainsaws, linecuters cut a pathway through the bush to access exploration properties and clear the way for geologists conducting ground geophysics. A linecutter in good shape can usually average one kilometer per day, but transportation, room and board and fuel are all taken care of.

The first contact with Fred Ice took place in the spring of 2006 and, by the end of the year, four waves of trainees were available for work.

The five-week program included one week of classroom instruction for first aid, WHIMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) and chainsaw certification, and four weeks at a training camp in the bush. At the conclusion of the first week, each trainee was outfitted with a brand new 50 cc chainsaw and a complete set of protective equipment, “from their boots right up to their helmet,” said Kane.

After four weeks in the bush, up to their knees in swamp and fending off the bugs, they were fully trained, equipped and ready to start earning a paycheck.

A total of 65 First Nation youth were accepted into the program by the end of December and 75 per cent of the trainees successfully completed it. One of the four courses was held in the First Nation community of Webique, 540 north of Thunder Bay.

According to Ice, the best workers are members of the more remote First Nation communities in Ontario’s Far North “because they are more familiar with the conditions from hunting and trapping,”

Linecutting companies quickly scooped up a number of graduates and others used their skills to find work in firefighting, scarification and tree planting.

Confederation College expects to conduct one more intake of trainees before the end of March and then plans to tap into the expertise of Cambrian College and the Haileybury School of Mines to offer a more ambitious selection of courses focusing on geoscience and diamond drilling.
The objective is to equip First Nation youth with a range of skills so they are better able to take advantage of employment opportunities in the exploration sector.

Kane hopes that linecutters with their chainsaws, paychecks and self-esteem will serve as role models within their communities and inspire First Nation youth to emulate their success.

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