A number of large companies, private and public alike, are addressing the socioeconomic hardships that have heavily affected parts of British Columbia's northern regions. In particular, BC Hydro has been working closely with northern First Nations and Aboriginal communities to provide job opportunities, and hopefully long-term solutions in the foreseeable future.
BC Hydro deals with the generation and transmission of electrical utilities to over 90 percent of British Columbia. In early 2010, the company commenced plans to build the Northwest Transmission Line. The NTL will stretch northwards from the city of Terrace to Bob Quinn Lake, and will serve as a hub for clean power transmission in the province's northwest corner. Once completed by 2014, the 335 km line will distribute 287 kilo-volts of energy. Construction of the project is expected to begin in the spring of 2011, and will provide 280 jobs with hundreds more to follow.
BC Hydro has gone to considerable lengths to get the local indigenous communities involved with this project. Aboriginal Relations and Negotiations (ARN) was developed to establish a robust and mutual dialogue between BC Hydro and the Nisga'a Lisims Government. ARN is charged with leading the consultation effort on the project, says Tim Jennings, Senior Project Manager for BC Hydro. It's a fairly comprehensive responsibility in terms of making sure we go to the [Aboriginal] communities and help them participate throughout the project.
BC Hydro has transmission lines all over British Columbia, adds Lesley A Wood, Senior Stakeholder Relations Specialist for BC Hydro, and many of them pass through traditional territory for First Nations. So we have to consult with them since we're impacting land that they're traditionally the stewards for.
The importance of this endeavour must be put in perspective. The number of Aboriginal students who don't complete high school still hovers at an unacceptable level. According to a 2004 study by the BC Progress Board, only 47 percent of Aboriginal students graduated from high school compared to 82 percent of non-Aboriginal students in the province. A similar study by the BC progress Board found that the unemployment rate among the Aboriginal population was 17.3 percent, while only 6.6 percent concerning the non-Aboriginal population. This is especially severe in the Hazelton area where unemployment has reached 90 percent, says Lorrie Gowen, Manager of Continuing Education at Northwest Community College (NWCC).
Joint efforts have been made in British Columbia to combat these issues. NWCC has developed boot camps to help train the personnel involved on the NTL's construction. Jennings stresses not to let the name fool you, as the camps are merely intensive training programs. Most of the work is done in the local communities so that they don't have to do any extensive traveling, he explains. We're not putting them in dorms or waking them up at six in the morning. Jennings explains that NWCC has been facilitating the space to train these men and women, providing instructors as well as input in the course curriculum.
The classes themselves are usually day classes, says Gowen. They're typically seven to eight hours long, Monday to Friday for four to five weeks. Aside from being of a certain age and having basic reading and math skills, there are no grade 12 prerequisites required to register with the programs. These are certificate courses, adds Gowen. We want to give people the skills they need to get employment.
Although BC Hydro can't speak to any specific impacts they'd like to have in Aboriginal communities, they still aim to leave an impression on Aboriginal youth. We hope [the project] provides an avenue of employment in the future, says Jennings. We're looking at this as a stimulus for development, and it should provide some economic stability to the region that [First Nations communities] can depend on. He notes that contractors and secondary companies are expected to be hiring during and in the wake of the NTL project. Community health provides optimism, so all of those things are positive for young people who want to live and grow in their communities. In addition, Gowen explains that this will create more opportunities for those involved to develop important trade skills and even start their own businesses.
Though BC Hydro's and NWCC's outreach efforts may be within British Columbia, they're nevertheless planting the seeds of progress. In dealing with these matters at a provincial level, the hope is that it will lead to improvements nationwide.