The Tla-o-qui-aht, Yuu-cluth-aht, Toquaht, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht First Nations agree they all have one need in common: housing, writes Stefania Seccia in the Westerly News, October 14, 2010.

This common issue was deduced at a visioning exercise with all five nations in 2008.

The five nations also collectively own Tree Farm licenses 54 and 57, comprising more than half of Clayoqout Sound. More than 300 new homes need to be built, more than 100 need fixing and other facilities and buildings are also needed.

“They were still seeing high levels of unemployment and in debt with these, not doing so well with forest tenures,” said Satnam Manhas, Ecotrust Canada’s Clayoquot forest communities program general manager.

The visioning session also featured representatives from Iisaak Forest Resources Ltd. and Coulson Forest Products.

The Clayoquot forests program is a 50/50 partnership for five years, funded by Natural Resources Canada (until 2012) and co-run by Ecotrust and the five First Nation bands.

The application to the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s (HRSDC) Skills and Partnership Fund for $4.5 million (distributed over three years at $1.5 million) is called Quay-qwiik-suup (transformation in Nuu-chah-nulth): Standing Tree to Standing Home Project. It was completed and finally handed in on September 30.

“You could actually include non-natives in that too because there’s such a huge need for low-income housing and that facilitation turned into this guiding principle for all forestry practices would be based on Hishuk-ish-tsawalk, which is everything is one [everything is connected] and the governance of that…which turns into this virtuous circle,” said Manhas. “A house is needed for health and wellness and if you have health and wellness this allows you for education and training, which prepares you for jobs and it creates the demand for houses and work.”

The funding would be used to deliver training, locally (potentially at the Tofino Botanical Gardens) by offering such courses as introduction to plumbing, introduction to electrical, introduction to carpentry, carpentry level two, carpentry level three, carpentry level four, residential maintenance program, milling, project administration/management and heavy equipment operating.

All of these courses have space for 15 people and range from two to six months in length.

Also one special program being introduced is called Bridging to Trades, which has room for 24 people and runs for four months. It provides a possibility to upgrade English and math skills, and an introductory to electrical, plumbing, welding and possibly carpentry.

“Most of the population here has doubled, I believe, in most of the communities and there’s nowhere to live for people,” Manhas said. “Overcrowding turns that home into one third of its life cycle and then add shoddy building and materials and it’s even faster.”

About nine different training and service providers put in a bid to be the ones to work with the five First Nations on this initiative, and after a gruellling interview session and presentation by each one, the decision came down to Vancouver Island University and North Island College who chose to work together.

If the application is successful the program could start as early as April 2011 and finish in 2014.

“So the idea was to start developing… the skills you need to become a resilient community and, you know, you have all these opportunities coming ahead of you, and you’ve had lots of people come in to do it. You can’t afford a lot of the homes [so] how do we make affordable homes by using local labour?” Manhas explained.

“If we build those skills up, over time there’ll be more local labour and that money keeps circling in that community while the money has normally been going out and…when you’re building your own home and your neighbour’s home, which is usually your aunt or your uncle here, you’re going to try to do the best you can.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth Training Program, Ahp-cii-uk Initiative, the five communities, Ecotrust Canada and Brad Henry of Natural Resources Canada were at the interview meeting last July.

“Before people did the work and then they were gone and it’s always cost more because these contractors don’t have a place to stay,” he said. “So, this is one of the guiding ideas, really–community resiliency,” he added.

Nicola Valley Institute of Technology also presented the bridging program, which comes complete with a remote trailer comprised of 12 stations.

“This was helped by Vancouver Island College and North Island College who both phoned us up after the meeting and said they are collaborating on this to provide most of the services and they will do it together,” he said. “It’s easy for us to administer and even where some of the other schools had high skills and did a great job, the collaboration was a really easy tipping point for everybody to go, ‘That’s the place we want to work with,’ or, ‘These are the two schools we want to work with together because they’re willing to collaborate.'”

Also, VIU presented a culturally appropriate program it has, which sees its students work on a paddle and drum early in the course.

“[VIU] came with a lot of people [to present]. They came with a lot of information and they gave prices, which a lot of places didn’t, and they gave great examples of how they would do a lot of the programs and the communities really appreciated that,” Manhas said.

Another piece of the application puzzle was to bring in at least 25 per cent in other contributions to add to the HRSDC’s potential funding.

“So the way we did it is a lot of the communities were willing to step up with their housing budgets and include them into the program where the students will have a place to go to work when they’re done and many of the homes, a number of the homes within each community will be built by these students and these programs,” he said. “So the wages they were going to put out anyway would then be filled by those students to supplement and that’s one of the things they did.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth employment training program also committed $70,000 a year for living allowances for students while they’re going to school.

“The problem with these programs is you’re only targetting certain people and a lot of people that really want the skills already have jobs, but don’t have any accreditation and would never be able to be part of this program and that was the worry,” Manhas said. “So this is a way for getting around it, is to make sure people that want to be in the program also get a living allowance and they also have a job when they’re outside training.”

Ecotrust Canada, Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Natural Resources Canada (Canadian Forest Service), Ucluth Development Corporation, Iisaak and others sent in letters of support to compliment the application.

Henry finalized the application and couriered it out before deadline and Iris Frank, YFN director of operation, was the lead applicant on behalf of the five communities.

“[Frank] stepped up and presented on behalf of all the communities,” Manhas said. “However, if the application is approved then [the five First Nation communities] decide to make an entity themselves, some sort of entity that will be managing the money and administration over the three years.”

With the advent of construction happening in Flores Island, Ty-histanis and in Ittatsoo, and with more in the pipeline for other First Nation communities, if the application for funding moves forward the training program could open many doors.

“Overall it’s part of the circle of wealth of skills and training,” Manhas said. “However, we believe it’s the best investment in the skills and training because you’re developing human capital and over those three years we have a good kick-start of really getting some high capacity human capital in the region that will have a legacy for a long, long time for these communities to have these high skills available.”