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Andre Aqatsiaq, facing the camera, is one of 21 students taking the first mine drilling course for Inuit students offered on campus at Nunavut Arctic College in Iglulik. Once they have completed the course, some of the students may go on as pre-employment roughnecks, or drill site helpers, at work sites for companies such as Baffinland Iron Mines and Stornoway Diamond Corporation, eventually going on to become drillers. - photo courtesy of Carroll Macintyre

Iglulik drilling course up and running

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 28, 2008

IGLULIK - The promise of a life in Alberta, working an oil rig and enjoying the province's warm sights and endless opportunity - that's what brought Mike Kigugaq to the Nunavut Arctic College campus in Iglulik last week.

Kigugaq was one of 21 students taking the first-ever, Iglulik-based, 21-day drilling course aimed at Inuit and organized by Igulik's economic development office.

Originally from Arctic Bay but currently living in Igulik, Kigugaq was joined by other students from Arctic Bay, as well as Pond Inlet, Clyde River and Hall Beach.

The course offers training that will allow graduates to work at drilling sites as "pre-employment roughnecks" - helpers to those who operate drills at mining, oil or gas projects in Nunavut or, in the case of Kigugaq, oil-rich Alberta. Once they've put in enough time as right-hand men, they can go on to operate drills of their own.

Kigugaq heard of the course from a friend who had already completed a similar version with the Maritime Drilling School in North Sydney, N.S. The friend, he said, plans to work as driller at Baffinland Iron Mine's Mary River deposit, located 160 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet.

"I hope to be an international driller and hopefully I'll be working in Alberta rigs because Alberta is such a nice place to live in," said Kigugaq. "I first stopped there on a four-day, cross-country car trip from Ottawa to Vancouver and I loved it."

The atmosphere in the Igulik classroom, where the students ranged between ages 21 to 40, was competitive, but Kigugaq did his best to foster a friendly environment, he added.

"I helped out others who couldn't speak English very well," he said.

The competitive rivalry among some students only made them keener to succeed, in the eyes of Reg MacDonald. Together with his brother Colin, who is the Maritime Drilling School co-founder, MacDonald taught the course, offering tips on safety, fall protection and drilling.

"What I found, dealing with the Inuit, is that they work very well as a team - providing you can get the different communities to relate," MacDonald said. "Sometimes, each community will (avoid) the others. But if you can break that barrier between them and get them to sit down as a team and work together, you seem to have better results."

MacDonald said it took about three days for the students to get comfortable with each other, and they were eventually interacting during and after class.

The training course, co-funded by the Kakivak Association in Iqaluit and the Government of Nunavut's Department of Education, was organized principally by Carroll Macintyre, a long-time economic development officer. He said his mission is to help the Inuit take control of their own lives through healthy employment.

"It's the first time it's been done in Nunavut, to bring different communities together (for training), which results in a little bit of competition in the classroom," said MacIntyre. "But that's good, because the competition means that they're going to try hard."

MacIntyre said there is a lot of opportunity waiting for those who stick with the course. Early next month, 10 Inuit men who completed the MacDonalds' course in North Sydney will begin work as helpers at Baffinland, eventually going on to work their own rigs.

"And there's already some people working for Advanced Drilling at Roche Bay (an iron-ore deposit on Nunavut's Melville Peninsula)," he said.