Thunder Bay·Audio

Aboriginal pilots join Wasaya Airways in northern Ontario

The three northwestern Ontario pilots are recent graduates of the Confederation College Aviation-Flight Management program in Thunder Bay.

The three northwestern Ontario pilots are recent graduates of Confederation College in Thunder Bay

Wasaya Airways president and chief executive officer Michael Rodyniuk, left, with new pilots Thomas Nodin of Whitesand First Nation, Darren Anderson of Kasabonika Lake First Nation, and Chris Winnepetonga from Wunnumin Lake First Nation and Sandy Lake First Nation chief Bart Meekis, the chair of the Wasaya board of directors. (supplied)
Wasaya Airways is welcoming three new pilots from the First Nations communities it serves.

Chris Winnepetonga of Wunnumin Lake First Nation, Darren Anderson of Kasabonika Lake First Nation and Thomas Nodin from Whitesand First Nation are all graduates of the Aviation-Flight Management program at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Their success will show other young First Nations people that it's possible to achieve their dreams, Wasaya board chair Bart Meekis said in a written statement.  

"If you work and do not give in, you can succeed.  The sky is the limit," he said. 

The three apprentice pilots will work out of the Wasaya airbase at Pickle Lake, Ont. 

Being able to fly for Wasaya is a dream come true, Winnepetonga said.

"The fact that I have the opportunity to be a member of a First Nation in the spotlight is a wonderful thing, and I feel very lucky to do that and for Wasaya to help me," he said.

'This is what I want to do for the rest of my life'

One memorable moment of Winnepetonga's career so far was landing for the first time in his home community of Wunnumin Lake, he said.  

"The whole community knew that I was coming. ... It was a nice landing.  It wasn't great but it was nice," he added, laughing. 

"My family was there.  My friends.  And that's when I knew yes, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life."

Winnepetonga first got interested in flying as a child, he said, when he and his father chartered planes to travel to their trap-line. 

He would like to stay close to home and continue to work in remote communities in northern Ontario, he added.

Nishnawbe Aski grand chief Harvey Yesno issued a statement congratulating the three new pilots, saying NAN is especially proud that they will be flying for a First Nations airline that brings vital air service to remote communities.   

"We admire their determination for pursuing their dreams," he added, "and their success is proof that, with the right education, First Nation youth can achieve their goals and succeed in anything they set their minds to."