Embark Engineering is a unique engineering firm formed in 2012 by the Lax Kw’alaams Band and Kerr Wood Leidal Associates Ltd. (KWL) with the intent “to act as a bridge between First Nations and industry”. Lax Kw’alaams is the majority owner (51%). The company is governed by two representatives from the Lax Kw’alaams Band and two representatives from KWL. An important part of the mandate of the company is to create careers for First Nation people and to build capacity within the Lax Kw’alaams Band. Embark shares an office with KWL in Burnaby, BC and is planning to open another office in Prince Rupert in the coming years. KWL also has offices in Victoria, Vernon and Calgary. KWL has 130 employees, of which a smaller subset have self-identified as having Aboriginal ancestry or recognizes themselves as Aboriginal.
“KWL was formed in 1975 ,has been working with the Lax Kw’alaams for over 30 years and together we have a long, firmly established relationship,” says Colleen O’Toole, P. Eng, with KWL. “At this point, KWL provides mentoring and management services for Embark projects with the long term vision to build capacity within Embark. The intention is to create as many opportunities as we can to build an engineering and geoscience workforce for the north coast for people in those communities to be able to drive the projects that impact their home.”
In terms of the career development programs, O’Toole, who is of Anishinabe Ojibwa ancestry, says “We recognize that it’s important to instill that curiosity and wonder in engineering and science early on in a child’s educational career. To do this, we’ve been involved in co-sponsoring summer science camps in the communities; we’ve been talking with Northwest Community College and other schools in the region to create more access to the training members are interested in without having to leave their communities. We also have a mentoring and cooperative education training opportunity within the company, and help to make connections for people who are looking for opportunities in engineering.
Brandi Hayward is a co-op student at Embark. A member of the Lax Kw’alaams Band, she is a former child care worker who had always nurtured an interest in engineering. In 2012, when she saw a tweet about engineering and Lax Kw’alaams, she felt inspired to act upon that interest. She contacted a career counsellor who connected her with Ron Monk, an engineer who leads Kerr Wood Leidal’s Energy & Mining Sector.
Brandi Hayward said “I am enrolled in the 2014 fall Civil Technology Program at BCIT. It’s a two year program and then I want to continue on to get either a geological or environmental engineering degree. I have been with Embark for a few months and it’s great as I get to see what an engineer does as opposed to theory in a classroom. The experience here has been great because being out of school for ten years, the thought of four years of education is quite daunting – I will be with kids who are just out of high school and I was feeling maybe I should stick with child care but this experience with Embark has given me that extra push I needed. My goal is, after I get my degree, to go back to my community to work and to be with my people and my elders.”
For O’Toole, her career as part of the team building Embark allows her to realize her dream of combining her passion for science and engineering with her other passion which is creating career opportunities for people in this country who have historically and currently are marginalized.
Three best pieces of advice from O’Toole and Hayward for working effectively with Aboriginal Peoples is:
- Treat all with respect – those with four legs, two legs, winged ones, finned ones, one’s self and mother earth.“Treat the Earth well. We do not inherit this land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”
- Listen with your heart and speak from your heart.
- Take time to understand the past.
It was great to speak with these two young women who are passionate about creating careers in science and engineering for Aboriginal People.
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