Thompson Rivers University

(Red) Sealing the deal on skills for Indigenous trades students

January 18, 2024

Pictured left to right: Trades carpentry students Rosaire "Wes" Dick, Jaimin Casimir, Sarah Jules, Jack Harry and Cass Harry; not pictured: Browdy Paterson.

After writing their Red Seal exam just before the holidays, six Indigenous carpentry students in the School of Trades and Technology at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) are stepping forward to put their skills into action.

Choosing trades

TRU Kamloops trades student

Three of the classmates — Rosaire “Wes” Dick, Cass Harry and Jack Harry — are  members of the Esk’etemc First Nation at Alkali Lake and have gone through the carpentry program together. They completed their first two years at TRU in Williams Lake and their final two in Kamloops.

“I started working with operations and maintenance in my community and got into carpentry because apparently, I have a knack for it,” says Dick. “It’s magical that Cass, Jack and I ended up here at the same time.

“Our community is short on any sort of trades, and everyone’s looking for that skill set. The cost of living is going up, and people don’t want to immediately buy new — they want to fix things. We also have some new builds coming up in our community, and it’s hard to find people who want to commute 45 minutes from Williams Lake. At this point, it’s out of necessity.”

Jack Harry agrees: “Our community’s pushing people to go into trades. They need the skills we can provide.”

For some of the students, fathers and uncles were influential.

“My dad was a carpenter, so that impacted my decision,” says Cass Harry.

Sarah Jules, a member of the Skeetchestn Indian Band and the Secwépemc First Nation, worked for her band before choosing carpentry as a career. “My uncle runs his own little shop, and I was doing computer work, which wasn’t my thing, so I asked if I could get a job with him. I started right away, and I’ve been there for seven years.”

Support at TRU

TRU Williams Lake trades student

After experiencing some challenges, a few of the students in the program found the support they needed while carving out their own place in the program.

“Everyone at TRU has been as accommodating as possible,” says Dick. “I have dyslexia, so I do struggle with keeping up with the class. But the program provided accommodation assistance, so I had a decent experience in school.”

As the only female student among her carpentry classmates, Jules found her path and the support she needed.

“My first year on campus, I was scared, but that’s more about being a woman in trades, ” she says. “I didn’t know what people were going to say. I didn’t know anyone, so I felt alone. I sat by myself and didn’t talk much. This past year was different, though. There were people who I knew, and my classmates, these guys, were great. I felt more welcome. And I realized we were all here to learn, trying to get our Red Seal.”

Proud moments

As the students embrace what they’ve learned and prepare for the next chapter in their lives, many, including Jack Harry, reflect on moments that have made them most proud.

“On our rez, we built two triplexes, side-by-side,” says Harry. “And we did it from the ground up. When you get to see a finished product, something you built, where people get to live, you can say, ‘Hey, I did that.’”

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