Trying it on
Clean-up project provides non-traditional occupations

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

RESOLUTION ISLAND (Sep 27/99) - Jessica Patterson is a perfect example of what decades of women have fought to achieve.

At just 18 years of age, the born and bred Northerner filled, with complete ease, one of the non-traditional occupations available to women on Resolution Island.

Hired by Queen's University to work as a lab assistant for year two of the five-year PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) clean-up project, Patterson did topography, GPS (Global Positioning System) work, barrel sampling, PCB testing and lots of lab and computer work.

But Patterson, like generations of women before her, didn't have such an easy time of it at first. She explained that during the first few weeks of the season, she found it difficult to work with one of her supervisors who, she thought, treated her differently from other employees because of her sex and her age.

"I had a little bit of trouble. We didn't get along so good at first because I'm female and younger. I didn't appreciate that, but I let it slip and it stopped," said Patterson, who is now attending university in Alberta.

She said that many of her male co-workers actually went out of their way to help the women and in some instances, she said, they even took on the role of big brother.

"We were working down at the beach and there's no buildings or anything and this guy brought his truck down and drops it off and walks back to his spot so that in case the girls got cold, they could warm up in the truck," said Patterson, who thought the gesture was thoughtful.

Kilaja Simeonie also had a hard time adjusting during her first few days on the site.

"When I got here, I was the only lady for four days and three nights. The first two nights I was kind of nervous being all alone as a female. The third day was all right though," said Simeonie.

Hired by the Qikiqtaaluk Corp., the site contractor, Simeonie, like her male counterparts, received training in several different areas. As well as learning the ropes of operating heavy equipment, she did a little electrical work, some carpentry and plumbing and, of course, she did some housekeeping.

"The guys were very fair with me and they taught me how to do a lot of things so I got to learn," said Simeonie.

Amanda Serkoak, a civil engineering student, was also employed by QC and Queen's University on the site. Along with her favourite past-time of operating heavy equipment, Serkoak said she did a lot of barrel testing and draining, and she said she didn't encounter any sexism on site.

Likewise for Heather Priest, also a lab technician hired by Queen's University.

"I haven't run into anything or seen any sexism. There's camaraderie between everyone and I don't think the women are singled out."

Site supervisor Harry Flaherty said he made hiring women a priority this year in an effort to develop a well- rounded and efficient contaminated site workforce.

"This opens the door for them and they could pursue any direction they wish," said Flaherty of his staff.

"Those are the type of people we're in need of in Nunavut."