Transmission line, resource projects driving Nisga’a jobs

Employment strong in Nass Valley, but Alberta oil luring trained workers east

By Jenny Wagler

Construction of the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) and the projects that it’s enabling are driving employment for the Nisga’a Nation in northwestern B.C.

Mitchell Stevens, president of Nisga’a Lisims Government, said there has been a flurry of activity in the area seen since the NTL was approved early last year.

“Since the announcement of the Northwest Transmission Line infrastructure, there have been eight mines fast-tracked in our traditional territory,” he said.

They include:

Denver, Colorado-based Avanti Mining Inc.’s (TSX-V:AVT) Kitsault molybdenum project; and

•Toronto-based Seabridge Gold Inc.’s (TSX:SEA) Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell gold project.

Stevens said the two projects, while still going through approval processes, are already generating jobs for the approximately 2,500 Nisga’a in the area.

“We had some people doing some work at Avanti, and we had some people doing work up at Seabridge and we had some people doing work up at [Regional Power’s project,] Long Lake Hydro.”

Stevens said that the NTL project is currently the largest outside driver of new jobs for the Nisga’a. He said the project currently employs approximately 28 people.

BC Hydro confirmed it has contracts with the Nisga’a Nass Area Enterprises Ltd. Partnership to clear 114 kilometres of right-of-way for NTL construction roads. That represents about one-third of the NTL’s length.

Stevens said Avanti and Seabridge have been proactive about discussing their projects and job opportunities with the Nisga’a. “To both companies’ credit, they’ve been quite willing to sit down and talk to us and keep us in the loop – not like in the past whereby [companies] made the decisions and then they just handed it down.”

Avanti Mining Inc. CEO Craig Nelson said his company has been trying got to hire as many Nisga’a as it can. Once its project’s environmental assessment process is completed, Nelson estimated Avanti would need up to 700 people during the two-year construction period.

“Although a lot of those people are highly skilled trades, we hope to be able to hire at least 100 [Nisga’a] and possible more locally for the labour, camp catering, some transportation.”

Stevens said the overall impact of the NTL and other local resource projects has been positive for Nisga’a employment.

“Our employment rates are much better than they were two years ago. They’re not where they should be, but they are improving.”

Stevens added that the Nisga’a are also seeing economic spinoffs from the NTL work such as local property being leased.

He said BC Hydro and local project proponents have been helping fund Nisga’a skills training. But Stevens cautioned that the challenge now is to hold on to – and in some cases lure back – those workers in the face of other opportunities.

“We’ve trained up a bunch of people, but we know that we’re going to be in battle with Alberta with the oilfields to get our people back that have been trained and have these qualifications.”