Carving out a future
First diamond-industry graduates honoured

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 19/99) - The ambitions of the NWT's first diamond-training graduates mirrors those of the government's in making Yellowknife the diamond capital of Canada.

Twenty-seven graduates of two diamond-training programs were honoured Friday by school, industry and government officials -- who couldn't help but make the occasional reference to "brilliant futures," "a gem of an idea" and "a cut above the rest."

Scores of family and friends also gathered at the legislature's Great Hall for the ceremony marking the graduation of 20 Arctic College students and seven new Sirius Diamonds employees who recently completed a training program in Sydney, B.C.

"We help teach gemology courses all over the world," said Belgian Jan De Kesel, executive director of the Diamond High Council in Canada and Antwerp. "There are commitments to start a second session after the summer holidays and discussions for another after Christmas."

Dressed in a crisp, white shirt, black pants and his Metis sash, Vince Halushka, 27, said he has mixed feelings about completing the program.

"It would feel a lot better, obviously, if I had a job to go to on Monday -- that would be ideal," he said. "But my applications are out and I'm checking my answering machine -- every friggin' hour, actually."

Halushka said he hopes his investment of time, money and effort pays off.

"I've been in the diamond exploration business for a few years, so for me this was a good step," he said. "And with the government stepping in and saying there has to be a secondary diamond industry or these mines will not produce diamonds, this is where there's going to be a lot of growth in the next few years."

School officials confirmed that none of the 20 students have jobs yet, but Bob Ward, Aurora's co-ordinator for mine training, said Sirius should employ 10 within a month and another five or six within a year.

Ward said that with other companies signing agreements with the government -- to keep a percentage of their rough diamonds in the North and to employ Northerners -- more jobs will follow.

Michael Miltenberger, minister of Education, Culture and Employment called the graduation ceremony a significant step for the NWT.

"This is a very good first effort," he said. "The diamond industry is usually a kind of secretive, compartmentalized industry and this is one of the first examples of a close relationship between the industry and government."

The minister said the development of the secondary, or value-added, industry would help the government in its efforts to wrest greater control of the territory's natural resources from Ottawa.

"It's going to be a tremendous impetus," he said.