Potlotek First Nation… An effort to ensure local Aboriginals were employed on the highway construction underway on Route 4 has far exceeded expectations. Work on the upgrade to a section of Route 4 in Cape Breton that goes through the First Nation community of Potlotek (Chapel Island) will end soon. A pilot project that involves the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Potlotek First Nation and the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO), sought to ensure at least 10% of the workforce were local Aboriginals. “Today, 13 of 39 site employees are from Potlotek First Nation, 33% of the workforce,” said Mike Jessome, project manager with Nova Construction.

“It is clear that this program has been successful,” said Mike Jessome. He spoke very highly of his crew, noting they are hard working, eager, and pleasant to work with. In fact he describes them as a “great bunch of young people”. He said they arrived to work on time, in some cases a half an hour early, wanted to work and are very proficient in their job tasks.

“The success of this project clearly demonstrates that when we all work together, when industry works with First Nations, we all benefit,” said Wilbert Marshall, chief of Potlotek. The chief congratulated the workers and thanked his community for supporting this project. He also thanked Nova construction and the Department of Transportation for being open to working with his community. Finally, he thanked the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office for facilitating this partnership, for supporting the community and for providing the training.

“Given a chance and with the proper training, our people can help these construction companies succeed,” said Chief Marshall. “Our people want to work and we invite industry and government to partner with us.”

Earlier this year the province of Nova Scotia awarded the highway construction project to Nova Construction Co. Ltd. of Antigonish. This contract is for a 6 km upgrade of Route 4 through the First Nation community of Potlotek. The project is valued at more than $5 million and will be completed by early December.

Before work began, the contract called for Nova Construction to hold a job fair in the community of Potlotek and to work with the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office to promote, train and recruit local Aboriginals.

“We hope this success will lead to a new provincial policy that will see broader Aboriginal engagement in highway contracts from one end of the province to the other,” said Alex Paul. Geoff MacLellan, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal said, “Phenomenal!! A great effort by all, but more importantly, great results. Lets build upon this success!”

In the fall of 2014, Chief Wilbert approached management at the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office seeking help to ensure local Aboriginals get hired for highway work planned for his community. Alex Paul and Owen Fitzgerald, from the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office, contacted government officials to see what could be done. Department of Transportation officials were encouraging, but said similar efforts in the past have not been very successful. Paul and Fitzgerald outlined the process their office follows whenever they work with industry. “Our system works and is proven,” said Alex Paul. “It is important not to set people up for failure,” said Paul. “We have found that it is not enough to promise jobs. If you are going to succeed, you must provide the training and support and engage the industry as a partner.”

“The proof is in the results, and we see that in this Route 4 project” said Paul.