B.C. carpentry course gives Nuu-chah-nulth students chance to study near home

A cohort of Indigenous carpenters from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations graduated with their level one Red Seal carpentry certification. They did it without having to leave their communities. This is the first time this particular North Island College course has been offered.

'It was a way to stay and be supported, especially by their immediate family,' says education manager.

North Island College instructor Andrew McLeod, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation culture support worker and essential skills instructors Jan Green and Moy Sutherland honor 10 students at the level one Red Seal carpentry course graduation on Jan. 24. (Iris Frank)

A group of Indigenous carpenters from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations has graduated with a nationally recognized carpentry certification — and they did it without having to leave their Vancouver Island communities.

It is the first time this particular North Island College course — the Red Seal carpentry certification — has been offered. 

The course was held over seven weeks in Tyhistanis on Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations land, a 15-minute drive south-east of Tofino, B.C.​ The level one Red Seal carpentry program began with 15 students, 10 of whom completed the course.

The students were awarded their certificates on Jan. 24. 

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations education manager Iris Frank says making education available close to home will help young Indigenous post-secondary students.

"It has proven to work because they're able to stay within their own home community, not have to pick up their whole family and move to Port Alberni, Nanaimo or Victoria where normally all these programs are offered, Frank told  All Points Westhost Robyn Burns.

"It was a way to stay and be supported, especially by their immediate family within their home."

The program was funded by a grant through the Ministry of Advanced Education. There are four phases to the Red Seal carpentry program. 

Third individual from the left to the second last individual on the right: seven of the 10 graduates of the North Island College level one Red Seal carpentry course. (Iris Frank)

Staying close to home

Nuu-chah-nulth communities on the West Coast, Ucluelet, Tla-o-qui-aht, and Ahousaht First Nations lack skilled carpenters, says Frank. 

Had the students left the Nuu-chah-nulth communities for their education, Frank said, it's likely many would not return, instead choosing to stay in urban centres.

The program featured supports for English and math education. Students were also trained on the basics of carpentry.  

"Some of them couldn't use machinery at all—didn't have any idea what to do … They were able to upgrade and understand everything as they went along [and] they came out with confidence," said Frank. 

Indigenous carpentry level one graduates were honored in Tofino on Jan. 24. (Iris Frank)

Frank says she grew emotional at the graduation ceremony.

"Like a lot of our people, when we go to school and we're able to have that family and community support, that means a lot to us."

The construction program included cultural support from elders, as well as technical training with a carpentry instructor. 

Frank says organizers are starting to plan and look for funding for the level two Red Seal program. 

Listen to the full story here:

A cohort of Indigenous carpenters are celebrating their graduation after finishing a red seal carpentry program that allowed them to stay in their communities. 8:58

With files from All Points West