Elsipogtog women learn skilled trades while building housing for their community

SheBuilds and Elsipogtog First Nation have partnered to have three Mi’kmaw women apprentice in building homes, facing down two issues: lack of women in the trades and a housing shortage.

Mi’kmaw carpenter apprentices have helped build 3 homes so far

Olivia Gehue is a carpenters-apprentice from Elsipogtog First Nation. She's helped build three houses in the community and started working on the fourth house earlier this week. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Three Mi'kmaw women are helping build a brighter future for their community of Elsipogtog First Nation, one house at a time.

Olivia Gehue, Devonya Levi and Diana Augustine are carpenter apprentices and started working with a company called SheBuilds six months ago. So far they've helped build three houses in the community 91 km north of Moncton and earlier this week, they started building their fourth and fifth houses.

Gehue, 23, said building these homes is meaningful to her. 

"It's so important because I enjoy helping my community," said Gehue. 

"It's a big factor in my life." 

Devonya Levi is Mi'kmaw from Elsipogtog and hopes to see other Indigenous women enter the trade. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

Gehue entered the trade two years ago and said it is intimidating entering a male dominated field, but she enjoys the challenge.

"You have to work a little harder to prove yourself but at the same time its a good feeling because we're breaking down barriers not only as women but Indigenous women," said Gehue. 

The carpenter apprenticeship came about as a partnership between SheBuilds and Elsipogtog Economic Development and both parties see this as an opportunity to tackle two outstanding issues. 

"Our community has a housing shortage," said Lynn Francis, director of economic development for Elsipogtog First Nation, in a news release.

"As well, there's huge demand for construction workers. As we're always looking for more career opportunities for members of our community, we thought that training women for work in the construction trades would be a perfect fit."

On-site experience

The community is working with business partners like McGraw Housing, Mic Mac Industries and the Elsipogtog Housing Department to fund the training and it also tapped into the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation's Housing Internship for Indigenous Youth to help subsidize the wages of the trainees. 

The trio are learning trade skills and logging hours toward a Red Seal certificate, which allows tradespeople to work anywhere in the country.

One of the houses the apprentices helped build in Elsipogtog First Nation is a six-bedroom, two-bath home that measures 2,800 square feet. (Submitted by Olivia Gehue )

Two of the completed houses are two-bedroom and one bath detached homes. The third was a six-bedroom and two bath detached house. The houses they started building earlier this week will be two bedroom, one bath and 1,100 square feet. 

Donna Ferguson, owner of SheBuilds, said her goal is to build quality homes but also increase the visibility of women in the skilled trades. She said giving women on-site hours is important to their career development. 

Ferguson, who has spent almost 33 years in the field, said a barrier women face is they can feel alone on job sites. 

"It puts an extra level of burden on you — you're performing for your whole gender as opposed to just for yourself," said Ferguson. 

Donna Ferguson is the owner of SheBuilds, a construction company in Dieppe, N.B., and has spent almost 33 years in the field. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

She said the more women see themselves in these industries, the more will come. 

"The group we have here in Elsi, you can tell they want to be building here," said Ferguson. 

Ferguson said she hopes the women she works with in Elsipogtog will own their own businesses some day.

Levi, 21, said she takes pride in the houses she's built. 

"It feels really good and in like 10, 20 years, I get to drive by and say, 'Hey, I built that house,'" said Levi. 

She said the work site is a lot of fun and they share a lot of jokes, and she's learned to love working with her hands.

"Every Indigenous woman I see, I always try and get them to work with me because it's just so fun and I want everyone to experience this opportunity," said Levi. 


Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe