Inuit face long road to jobs as Canadian High Arctic Research Station takes shape
'People in our community are going to have to go out for post secondary education,' says mayor
In a small Cambridge Bay classroom located blocks from the frozen Dease Strait, Aili Pedersen is cramming for a final exam.
As a student in Nunavut Arctic College's environmental technology program, she's learning how to help scientists collect and analyze data. But she doesn't plan to stop there.
"I want to be a wildlife biologist," says Pedersen.
"I kind of want to do my own research. I want to be the scientist."
The timing is good, with construction of the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station underway in her own backyard. But with one more year to go before graduation, and further study required to earn a bachelor of science, Pederson is still years away from realizing her end goal.
The $200-million campus, scheduled to open in the summer of 2017, is being sold by Ottawa as a year round, state-of the-art Arctic research hub for the world, and a place where science, technology and traditional knowledge will come together in Canada's North.
But it's still not clear yet how many Inuit will land jobs on campus.
More than 600 applications
Polar Knowledge Canada, the federal agency that will run CHARS, says it's been "overwhelmed" by the number of job applications. As many as 40 people will eventually work on site.
More than 600 individuals applied for a couple of dozen positions, said David Scott, president of Polar Knowledge Canada. The positions range from research and supporting scientists, technicians, policy analysts and administrative support.
"A lot of these people who are in the Arctic science business are actually really keen to live in the Arctic, not just visit it for field work," said Scott.
He described them as mainly highly educated "early career folk" who are "full of energy." But only eight or nine applicants self-identified as Indigenous, said Scott.
"The total number of beneficiaries who applied was a relatively small number."
Most were applying for administration support positions, he said, a few in the science jobs.
"Which just emphasizes the amount of work we know needs to be done on pre-employment training" — an obligation by Ottawa under Nunavut's land claims agreement, said Scott.
That would include working with the graduates of the environmental technology program at the local college, said Scott.
"Get them some additional higher level training on the job while they come and work with us and grow their skill level and advance their careers with us."
Environmental technology program
Scott said Polar Knowledge Canada and the federal government have provided a "significant" amount of funding to Nunavut Arctic College to bring the two-year environmental technology program to the Cambridge Bay campus.
"We're absolutely looking to bring some of those folks on permanently as technical staff at CHARS campus," said Scott.
From her living room window, Cambridge Bay Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak sees the benefits CHARS has brought to her community since construction began in 2014. Her home backs onto the campus.
"In the morning I see people walking to work and at night I see people walking home," said Ehaloak.
These include local contractors and labourers.
But when it comes to higher-paying science jobs, "people in our community are going to have to go out for post secondary education," said Ehaloak.
"People are working towards it but it's going to take a while before you will see qualified Inuit people in the science and technology [jobs]."
Ehaloak is optimistic she'll see that day.
"I've heard a lot of kids say 'I can't wait. I'm so excited.' Like 'I don't want to be working for the government, I don't want to be a water/sewer truck driver.' Now I can work towards [being] a wildlife biologist because I know there might be a job available.'"