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Starting a new life
Underground miner Rosemary Buggins talks about balancing family and work

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 12, 2011

K'ATLODEECHE/HAY RIVER RESERVE - "It's like the first day of school: it's kind of nerve wracking," said Rosemary Buggins, sitting inside a coffee shop in Yellowknife last Tuesday.

NNSL photo/graphic

Rosemary Buggins of the Hay River Reserve has begun her career as an underground miner at BHP Billiton's Ekati Diamond Mine, a job requiring her to balance her family with the needs of her profession. - Guy Quenneville/NNSL photo

Buggins, a 25-year-old member of the K'atlodeeche First Nation, was anticipating her 7:45 am flight the next morning to BHP Billiton's Ekati Diamond Mine, where she is now in Week One of a 21-day orientation in her new career as an underground miner with Procon Mining and Tunnelling.

With that behind her, she will begin living the schedule every miner in the North knows well: two weeks on, weeks off.

"It's going to be a life-changing thing for me," she said.

Little more than a year ago, Buggins a single mother of two kids, aged two and five was working as a youth activity worker at the recreation complex on the K'atlodeeche reserve.

When she was laid off in Dec. 2009, she saw a poster for the Mine Training Society's Underground Miner Training program inside Hay River's career development centre.

"I went in, grabbed the poster, took it down, brought it home and was thinking about how this would change my lifestyle," she said. "I actually wanted to do something with my life. I wanted to get a career to better myself as well as support my children and just have something to look back at."

Buggins was selected for the program's initial six week Introduction to Mining class in Fort Simpson. She made the cut again when she and 11 other students moved to Yellowknife for 12 weeks to gain hands-on experience using the type of equipment (scooptrams, haul trucks, Toyota pickups) used underground at the territory's three diamond mines: Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake.

Buggins saw her kids on weekends in Yellowknife, an experience she hopes will prepare her for the two weeks she'll spend every month at Ekati.

"It was a change for me, but also I look at it as my kids getting used to not seeing me. 'This is how it's going to be, two weeks out of the month.' I also had a lot of support from my family (and my boyfriend, Jim), who would watch my kids for me. They pretty much helped me with my schooling and stuff. They were really supportive."

Working at the mine appealed to her because it would afford her some space, she said.

"I look at it in a good way. Parents need their space from their children. And I think for me it works out for my freedom to work and my freedom altogether to have my time to myself, which is my two weeks working and making money to support my family.

"And then on my two weeks off, I'll be home with my kids, for two full weeks. I think it's well-balanced for me in that way. I like the fact that it is, because I have no worries. On my two weeks off, I'll still be getting paid while I'm at home with my kids."

A good friend and live-in caregiver will stay in Yellowknife with Buggins' two-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, while her five-year-old-son, Dominic, will remain on the reserve with his grandmother.

"I'm helping (my friend) out as much as she's helping me out, because she's planning to go to college and wanting to make money for a year or so, so she's saving up money that I pay her for watching my daughter," she said.

Nervous as she was last week, Buggins said she was more than ready to start the next chapter of her life.

"For the last couple of days, I've been prepared for it, understanding that I have to be on a schedule and understand that I'll have to be away from my kids and accepting everything that comes with the career that I'll be doing."

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