At workforce lodges on TC Energy projects – which can often be located deep in the forest and a long drive from the nearest major highway – the isolation can present a mental health challenge for workers.
Drawing inspiration from Coastal GasLink, the Indigenous Relations team partnered with neighbouring Indigenous communities to pilot a new program at three workforce accommodations in Alberta on sections of the 2021 NGTL System Expansion project.
Through the Community Workforce Accommodation Coordinator (CWAC) program, coordinators from diverse Indigenous communities were hired to work as ambassadors of inclusion, resource navigators, cultural keepers, activity coordinators and role models to support an improved, positive and inclusive experience at the lodges.
Tanner Singer, from Blood Tribe, was one of those coordinators with a background working with marginalized, at-risk populations. He found his calling as a coach, helping people stay in tune with their mental health.
“Having this program is saying, ‘Hey, I see you. You have other people here with you that are going to share this experience with you and laugh with you and validate you and your existence,” he says. “People just want to talk and socialize; as much as we try to divide ourselves, we are much closer than we think.”
For Janet Auger, another coordinator in the program, building rapport with lodge residents and creating a safe space for people to talk were also key to her approach.
“Even if you have a very quiet day, even if just one or two people come in to have a conversation, you’ve provided support and an outlet to someone who may have needed it,” she says. “It’s really a recognition in supporting the health and wellness of the workforce and…will help with retention of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff because it fosters understanding between one another.”
Growing up in northern Saskatchewan with Métis and Cree heritage, crafting with birch bark and beading were part of her childhood experiences, which she was able to incorporate into cross-cultural learning opportunities for residents.
Janet also set up a dedicated space for smudging at the lodge, and often brought in personal items from home to share about her own culture.
Feedback on the pilot program has been positive. “One of my sons stays at a work lodge for a different company, and when I tell him about some of the stuff I’ve done as a coordinator, he says it would be awesome if they would do it at their lodge,” says Janet. “The feedback we’ve gotten from residents is that they think every lodge should have a program like this.”
With the success of the pilot program, the initiative has since been expanded to other projects.
We recently interviewed Janet and Tanner, as well as lodge residents. Watch the video to hear their personal stories and learn more about CWAC.