Culture in industry
Fort Liard First Nation representatives offer insight

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 04/98) - Don Antoine and Frank Kotchea had thousands of years of knowledge to relay and only four hours each in which to do it.

Representing the Acho Dene Koe, they addressed a combined 75 oil and gas industry delegates in Calgary and in Edmonton last week to provide insight into the customs, traditions and desires of the First Nation people in Fort Liard.

The topics broached during their presentation, entitled Bridging the Challenges, included knowledge of the land and weather systems, respect for the elders, land, water, animals, burial sites and other traditional landmarks.

Among those in the crowd were engineers, rig managers, "tool pushers," and drillers -- those who do the hiring for the oil and gas companies, according to Antoine, the employment and training co-ordinator for the Liard Valley Band.

The members of the audience were there on their time off and were sincere in their desire to learn, he said.

"There's a real big interest on their part, wanting to understand the culture more ... They have to because they're drilling in somebody else's backyard," he said. "You have to respect what's there, how people have lived before and how people take care of the land and so forth. A lot of stuff like that they didn't know."

The parties exchanged viewpoints on what each side expects from the other. While the industry reps placed emphasis on safety training, Antoine and Kotchea, the community wellness co-ordinator, expressed their aspirations of having local people employed and succeeding.

"We have to (work) on team-building, because it's not going to work without the other party," he said. "Not only do we want to advance our people here, but we also want to make sure there are little (in the way of) failures... Communication was probably one of the most important things that we talked about."

They also discussed the current challenges for Northern employees, such as improving education levels and minimizing the use of alcohol and drugs.

"It is very evident amongst local people that the influx of industrial activity in the area is approaching very fast and there is no or little effort in improving the social fibre or well being. There has to be an effort in counteracting on the long term," Antoine and Kotchea told the audience.

Industry, on the other hand, has to acknowledge seasonal traditions among local employees such as hunting, and have to overcome the language barrier. Some solutions were suggested such as having a translator conduct oral exams for those who are good operators, but who don't read or write very well.

Antoine noted that this was the first time such cultural training sessions had taken place. There were requests for more.

"All in all, it was a good trip. It was very beneficial. We thought it was quite positive," he said.