Two women from Scia’new First Nation are taking to the seven seas as deckhands to change their own lives and be part of efforts to bring back jobs to their community.
The pair have had a whirlwind year, from sitting in an introduction session in June to being enrolled in the Bridgewatch Rating Program a few weeks later – a program focused on getting women and Indigenous people into the maritime industry – and then onto the deck of a massive vessel in the North Sea off the east coast of Scotland.
For Weyla Chipps-Roy, the move was a big change of pace. She had worked as an education assistant with the Sooke School District for more than a decade but after her kids moved out (one of her sons has also done the Bridgewatch program), but decided she wanted more opportunities to climb the ladder.
While she knew little about the industry going in, and was intimidated at first, she found rolling up her sleeves and diving in helped get her up to speed.
“I grew up mostly having lots of guy cousins, and my husband and I have five kids between the two of us, and four are boys. I didn’t mind being on a ship with all the guys and I’m capable of doing the physical and just getting to swear as part of the job description – it’s a little different from the last job.”
Eunice Charles was initially so taken with the opportunity, she handed in her two-week notice at her job the same day of the information session.
“I’ve always grown up in a fishing community and so being on and around the ocean is always something that I’ve wanted to do,” Charles said. “I didn’t know what kind of areas I wanted to explore when it came to working on the ocean. I just knew I wanted to be on the ocean in some sort of area and doing something – I didn’t know it would be as a deckhand and getting to see the world.”
Having Chipps-Roy along for the journey with her helped Charles overcome some of her doubts. Working on a boat that big brought its challenges, like getting used to the accents of the Nova Scotian, Newfie, Scottish, Romanian and Croatian crew). There’s also keeping up with the waves of information the pair had learned and adjusting to the shift work. Shipping out from Montrose, a small port town on the east coast of Scotland, the pair spent weeks becoming part of the crew, culminating in a voyage across the North Sea, landing in Rotterdam and then flying home from Amsterdam.
Now they are Horizon Maritime employees, one of the companies to have partnered with Scia’new First Nation – along with Western Canada Marine Response Centre and KOTUG Canada – which are moving a portion of its operations to Cheanuh Marina on the nation’s territory. The companies will have ships based in the marina that will help tug oil tankers moving through the area – coming from the Trans Mountain pipeline – and also be a ship that will respond to oil spills if they happen in the area.
The project has been part of the push of the nation’s band council and Chief Russ Chipps to bring jobs back to Scia’new and have nation members trained to work on the ships.
One of those will be the ship Chipps-Roy and Charles are now set to be deployed on, the K.J. Gardner, a 74-metre-long offshore tugboat. The pair will be part of the crew to sail it from wherever the ship is stationed (currently it’s in Montrose) back to Cheanuh Marina.
“It’s this really cool, exciting job in this cool industry that I honestly knew nothing about prior to this and I get to do it from a 10-minute walk from my house,” said Chipps-Roy.
Charles says when they landed back in Victoria on their midnight flight from Scotland, 20 or so members from Scia’new were there to greet them with drums and cheers. She expects the welcome when the ship arrives in the marina will be even bigger.
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East SookeFirst NationsMetchosinTrans Mountain pipelineWest Shore