Wally Webber, Hereditary Chief and elected Chief Councillor of Nuxalk Nation, tells us about their trades training in their community.
For numerous reasons, we (as with many Indigenous communities) were having to hire outside tradespeople for our construction projects, and we wanted to become more self-sufficient. Bella Coola has a wet coastal climate and cold winters that have caused black mold in our poorly heated houses. Not so long ago many Bella Coola homes were in urgent need of repair, a dearth of available housing was causing overcrowding, and on top of that, there were no jobs to be had in our community.
In a bid to improve our situation, I persuaded Richard Hall – a Red Seal Carpenter, building inspector, construction foreman and now the Nation’s Chief Asset Manager – to return home to help us build a housing plan and training program.
Sending community members away for skills training was not only expensive but also meant they had to spend time away from their families. For a fraction of the cost, we brought instructors to our band school instead.
Building a successful skills training program took years of patient work and collaboration with outside organizations. With the Industry Training Authority (ITA) and Camosun College’s support, we have built a successful carpentry training program right here in Bella Coola. We also established the Nuxalk Construction company to build on this training program and employ trainees, apprentices and graduates.
To date, participants of our training program have built six energy-efficient homes, a chief’s house, day care, construction classroom and storage, triplex x 2, four small homes and laundry electrical room for single homeless or low-income community members. We’re completing a restaurant and cabins along the river for fishing tours and have also renovated at least 136 units.
We are constructing buildings that are not only suitable for our wet climate but also aligned with the cultural needs of the Nuxalk Nation: open-concept houses that enable people to gather in a social setting. To educate and empower our community members to maintain their homes, we’ve included courses in our band school on finance, home maintenance and repair strategies.
Another outcome of our carpentry program has been substantial cost savings. Because our homes were built by the Nuxalk people and not outside contractors, we have saved a significant amount of dollars and created 53 more jobs for the community membership.
We have now set our sights on building up to 50- 60 homes over the next five years, along with a Big House and a cultural centre and museum. Our long-term goal is to become a Central Coast Trades Centre and for current apprentices to become instructors.
The Nuxalk Nation also plans to build housing for other communities in northwest BC.
Our skills training program and the work it has created in Bella Coola have increased our sense of pride, self-worth and self-competence.
Do you know an apprentice or employer champion?
The Champions of Apprenticeship are recognized for their outstanding achievements in BC apprenticeship system. These Champions are celebrated for their hard work in creating certified tradesworkers, supporting their industry and promoting apprenticeship. Do you know an outstanding employer sponsor or apprentice? Send us an email and nominate them to become a Champion of Apprenticeship!