The Atikamekw of Opitciwan launch a mechanical tree harvester training program

First Nations students are often forced to leave their communities to continue their education or find a job and this presents a challenge in their educational and career development. These same students, who represent a large percentage of the members of their community can, however, play an important role in the economic development of their communities.

The Coopérative de Travail Inter-Nations (Inter-Nations Worker Co-op) was created in the Atikamekw community of Opitciwan, in Quebec, to encourage the development and training of local labour. Forestry workers are behind the creation of the co-op. The co-op's board of directors and the workers the co-op hires are all members of this Atikamekw community.

Since 2009, the co-op has provided more than 280 workers with work experience.

"In 2008, there wasn't any forestry work planned for the workers in the community. There was therefore a lack of forestry jobs for 1 or 2 years," said Jacques Verrier, the co-op's group entrepreneurship advisor. "That was where the idea came from to create a co-op and to bring workers together in a worker co-op." As a result of this initiative, they were able to obtain new work contracts.

In recent years, the co-op has started offering training programs for people who would like to work in the forestry sector. The first cohort of First Nations apprentices started their training in fall 2021.

School harvester, training, simulation
Photo: Mr. Verrier, Coopérative de Travail Inter-Nations

A simulator to support training

To encourage the next generation to pursue employment in the forestry sector, the co-op purchased a tree-harvester training simulator. "With the simulator, the training was brought to the students, not the other way around," said Jean-Paul Awashish, the president of the co-op. This is a major asset for the students in the community.

The training program has theoretical sessions and practical exercises using the simulator. The students can get experience similar to that in the field at a lower cost and in a safe environment.

"We want students in the program to get as many hours of hands-on training as possible. The simulator is a key tool for achieving training objectives before the students get into a machine and carry out tasks in the actual work context," said Verrier.

The purpose of acquiring this technology was also to get young candidates interested and encourage them to get their high school diploma. The experience using the simulator also helps them access professional training programs.

The co-op would like one cohort of Atikamekw students to complete the culturally adapted training every year. The organization has also given itself an ambitious goal of hiring about 50 new Atikamekw employees in the next 5 years.

Economic benefits of the project and exporting it

In addition to the economic benefits, the members of the co-op hope the training will attract the next generation and create jobs for Indigenous Peoples.

"All we want in the future is to be able to train other people from our community. We want to attract young people and try to take them with us," said Marcellino Saganash, a co-op operator.

The simulator is a mobile unit, which has 2 benefits: it can be used both in the forest and in other training environments. The organizers hope this pilot project will inspire other First Nations to do the same.

Indigenous Services Canada and Natural Resources Canada are proud to have supported this project in 2019 through the Spotlight on Forests Initiative, an ongoing Strategic Partnerships Initiative in Quebec. The economic development of Indigenous Peoples is central to reconciliation.

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