It was a night of firsts as 11 graduates of the Nuxalk community’s groundbreaking carpentry program were celebrated on Feb. 12th for completing their final year. The carpentry program, which was delivered as a partnership between the Nation, Nuxalk College, the Industry Training Authority and Camosun College, is a unique and innovate approach to education in remote and rural communities, and has left the community more equipped and self-sufficient.
The graduates have all written and passed their final exams, and five of the graduates also passed the examination to proceed with their Red Seal designation. The Red Seal Program is recognized as the interprovincial standard of excellence in the skilled trades, and carpenters must have approximately 7,200 hours of work experience to compliment their designation after they’ve passed the exam.
“The completion of this four year program is unique to Bella Coola – it’s yet to happen anywhere else,” explained Susan Wilson, Indigenous Peoples in Trades Training Coordinator with Camosun College. “It’s really exciting to be here and have seen it all the way through.”
The ceremony was held at the Acwsalcta School gym and was opened by Nuxalk Housing Manager Vance Snow, followed by a traditional welcome by hereditary chiefs. The students were honoured by the community and the college for their four years of hard work.
“It has been a privilege to be a part of this process,” said the group’s instructor Tom Newton. “I am so proud of all of you.”
It was evident that this is a close-knit group that has supported one another throughout the years. Newton joked about the students whose partners would deliver them hot lunches and praised their families for supporting them.
“These students clearly had the support of the their families and their community,” said Newton. “The students and their families have worked hard to achieve this.”
The students have accomplished a number of large projects during their training including the tiny homes, the triplexes, the youth centre, the restaurant and cabins, the daycare, the NAALs building and numerous community repairs.
“I’ve gained confidence in my work and improved my skills,” said graduate Dustin Newcombe. “The first year we started I met my fiance Carrigan Tallio. She has been there from day one helping out with a good support. Thanks to her, I’m where I’m at in my life.”
Two women are among the graduates: Shelly Tallio and Keisha Schooner. As Tallio shared, it was a unique and rewarding experience.
“Getting into the trades as a woman is extremely hard in a men’s work force. I have peers that are women, and I’m hoping to inspire other women as well,” said Tallio. “It’s a game changer, as it means better wages and a better life for myself and my family.”
One of the most incredible achievements of the program, and another of its many firsts, was that not one student was required to leave the community to complete the training. It was all delivered at home, something that Tallio says she is extremely grateful for.
“Being able to complete this level of education without leaving town for college is amazing,” Tallio said. “Not having to worry about rent and food is a huge positive. Furthermore, we didn’t have to go into a course full of strangers in class: we got to do it with friends, even family.”
Lawrence Northeast, Nuxalk College Administrator, says the success of the program has proven that local training works.
“The implementation, delivery and successful completion of the Four Year Red Seal Carpentry Apprenticeship Program demonstrates to the community and our partners in trades education that our community, education authority and the College have the capacity to run trades programs for the valley and our neighboring communities,” said Northeast. “Nuxalk College’s role has been mostly to provide logistical support to date, but moving forward our role will increase.”
Under the MOU signed between NAALS and the ITA, Nuxalk College will be a designated training facility. This means Advanced Education funding for trades training will come directly to them and then to the post-secondary partners that will deliver the programs they need and want to deliver in Bella Coola.
While there aren’t any confirmed plans to offer other trades yet, Northeast said that trades training will definitely continue to grow.
“The development and success of the Carpentry Program has resulted in the creation of an historic agreement our education office, NAALS, has signed with the ITA to follow the completion of this Red Seal Apprenticeship program which will see the continuation of trades training,” said Northeast.
The 11 grads are: Brandon Jeffery, Louis Edgar, Garrett Mack, Dustin Newcombe, Cody Robson, Sam Schooner, Adam Hood, Tommy Walkus, Shelly Tallio, Keisha Schooner, and Willis Johnson.