Waterhen Lake First Nation high school students hammered out a future in the trades as they finished building a home this June.
Blaine Fiddler, a band councillor who oversees housing, said the hands-on education would open a career path in the trades and boost the community’s workforce for building future homes.
“It feel really good,” he said. “We’ve always had a housing shortfall.”
Construction of the single-bedroom home in a high school course saw students learn about framing, foundations, interior design and construction, electrical work and plumbing.
Fiddler also plans to employ some of the students building housing in the community this summer. The idea is to build seven homes, four for elders and three for other families.
“We have a high population of youth,” he said. “And unfortunately post-secondary programs cannot accommodate all the youth who wish to attend university.”
Early trades education was set up as an alternative. The students’ high school construction course was supposed to run three months, starting in January.
Judy Fiddler, a school counsellor, said the work was supposed to finish in April, but COVID-19 postponed construction. In May, the boys asked if they could finish the job.
“The build helped them realize that others need homes and this helped take off stress by being with their friends,” she said. “They built a brotherhood.”
The house will be donated to the community’s school, which was “busting at the seams,” Blaine Fiddler said.
The school lacks a staff room, he noted, and Elders base their offices out of the boys’ locker-room. He added the community was waiting on approval for a new school, based off a verbal commitment from Indigenous Services Canada.
“But they haven’t really given us any funding toward designing, and planning it,” he said.
Blaine said he has high hopes for the construction program, which he sees as a path to careers and a way to combat housing challenges on the First Nation. By the time students graduate, they’ll be well on the way to have working experience in the trades.
“They’re pretty much set up,” Fiddler, who is a carpenter, said. “I wish they had this program when I started.”
Several contractors are nearing retirement in the community, he said, which leaves the door open for a new generation to step-up and help build the community. Blaine said he believes it’s a model for other First Nations facing housing struggles.
Moving forward, he said he wants to introduce a more advanced course to develop students’ skills further and help them gain hours.
“I hope they continue their education, continue on their path to the trades. So we’ll have more of a workforce in Waterhen Lake for housing,” he said.