Thunder Bay

First Nations power project congratulates seven graduates from 1st training program

As the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project gets closer to its goal of connecting several remote communities to the provincial power grid by 2023, officials from the project gathered in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the graduation of their first round of successful participants.

The Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project's 15-week certification program started in April

A total of seven students graduated from the line crew ground support training course on Thursday afternoon. These graduates received over 20 certificates during the 15-week course. (Submitted Photo)

As the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project gets closer to its goal of connecting several remote communities to the provincial power grid by 2023, officials from the project gathered in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the graduation of their first round of successful participants.

Twelve students have been taking part in the line crew ground support training course, Wataynikaneyap chief executive officer Margaret Kenequanash told CBC News, and after 15 weeks, seven graduates received their certifications on Thursday.

"They've achieved 28 certificates in various areas," Kenequanash said. 

Designed for those looking to gain employment in the construction of the Wataynikaneyap Power Transmission Project, the first line crew ground training course started in April, she added.

"I think the seven graduates are an example of what can be done, and they persevered and have graduated today," Kenequanash said. 

She said bringing students from remote First Nations communities to an urban centre like Thunder Bay for training has brought forward unique challenges, as many students experience culture shock and lack of support as they continue throughout the course.

Students of the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project Training Program pose with Margaret Kenequanash, Nishnawe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, and Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu.

"Fifteen weeks is a long time to be away from home," said Osborn Kakepetum, a student from Sandy Lake First Nation. "The city is nice but home is home."

Kakeptum said he was intrigued by the training course when he saw a poster about it in his home town.

"Electricity is a must, [and] power outages happen in communities like every day," Kakeptum said, "[so] it's a special feeling. I'm going to be part of a big project, and it feels like I'm going to be helping my people." 

Joel Meekis from Sioux Lookout also graduated on Thursday.

He said he also decided to take the training course as he "wanted to help northern communities with more sustainable power," while also embarking on a career.

"[This project] is very important for our northern communities ... and it will open up a lot of doors for youth, for jobs and careers," Meekis said.

With over 20 certificates, Kakeptum said he's applied to PowerTel to help build the transmission line in Pikangikum, while Meekis is also looking for a position to help build the transmission lines.

The intake for the next training course will take place this fall.

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