Chief leaves First Nations economic legacy

Robert Sam struck deals with local employer to provide jobs for Songhees, Esquimalt nation members

The logo of Salish Sea Enterprises adorns the side of a crane on Victoria’s Upper Harbour.

In the months before his death, Songhees Chief Robert Sam was working for a better future for his nation’s young people.

He and Chief Andy Thomas of the Esquimalt First Nation had formed a joint company with Ralmax Group of Companies and Ruskin Construction.

The new marine business, named Salish Sea Industrial Services Ltd. in May, provides training and employment opportunities for members of the two First Nations, including a contract to dismantle the old Johnson Street rail bridge.

The company employs nine people, six of whom are First Nations. Its barge prominently displays the logos of both First Nations.

In an interview last winter, Sam called the partnership a significant opportunity for young people, as well as a way to build awareness of the Songhees people.

“It creates for us a presence on the harbour and the downtown core area,” he said. “I’ve heard from people, ‘Oh, we thought you guys were gone.’  Ha!” he laughed. “No, we’re still here.”

The venture with Ralmax was not the first Sam negotiated with the private sector.

The first phase of construction on the Dockside Green development gave apprenticeship opportunities to some Songhees members. Sam signed a similar work agreement with the Victoria International Marina, which still awaits approval from the federal government.

“It’s groundbreaking in terms of the business community accepting us and seeing us as partners,” he said in November 2011. “Previously, when something started, we were always on the outside.”

The unemployment rate was a concern for Sam, who said the average education level on reserve is between Grade 8 and 10.

Agreements with the private sector, he said, “are a good opportunity to get some training for our young people, get them some job skills and get them out into the work force.”

However, he added, more needs to be done to ensure follow-up training is available to young people after they complete workplace apprenticeships. “We should have had a follow up,” he said. “We have to do it.”

Ian Maxwell of Ralmax has been working toward an agreement with the two First Nations for the past several years.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Chief Robert Sam,” he wrote in a statement to the News. “We at Ralmax have long been advocates for the meaningful inclusion of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations in the working harbour economies. I’m proud to have been Chief Robert Sam’s business partner. Our prayers and sympathy go out to everyone.”

Salish Sea Industrial Services acts as a labour pool, where unskilled workers can train as labourers. They can also be seconded to other companies within the Ralmax Group, where they will receive further training in specialized skills such as hazardous material abatement, or apprenticeships in fields such as welding and metal fabrication.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Families, spectators wave goodbye to Navy Task Force from Victoria shorelines

HCMS Winnipeg and HCMS Regina sailing to Hawaiian training exercise, further deployments

COVID-inspired RV sales soaring on West Shore and beyond

Health restrictions, recommendations keep Vancouver Island vacationers closer to home

‘Just being stupid’: Premier slams abusive customers at Langford restaurant

Restaurant said rude customers reduced its hosts to tears

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Should it be mandatory to wear masks when out in public?

B.C. is witnessing an alarming rise in the number of cases of… Continue reading

Cowichan RCMP use spike belts to end car chase — man in custody

The driver was arrested at the scene a short distance from his vehicle

COVID-19 tests come back negative for remote First Nation

“There are no suspected cases in the community at this time.”

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

Most Read