Crees take advantage of opportunities at Stornoway’s Renard mine

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Growing up with the Troilus gold and copper mine on his family trapline, it’s only natural that Solomon Awashish of Mistissini gravitated towards a career in the mining industry.

“All my uncles and aunts worked at the mine site,” Awashish said. “When I was 16 I dropped out of high school and worked in house cleaning until I was of age to work in the mine.”

Awashish worked the Troilus site near Chibougamau for seven years, first as a lab sample technician, mill operator and crusher operator and then as an environment technician after the mine closed. Despite all his experience in the industry, in August 2015 he made the difficult decision to return to the classroom.

Completing a 900-hour mineral and metal processing program set up by Cree Human Resources Development (CHRD) and Stornoway Diamond Corporation, where he finished top of his class, brought Awashish to where he is today. He now works full-time in the Renard mine north of Mistissini and is Quebec’s first ever certified diamond recovery operator.

Awashish completed the CHRD class in May 2016 and it wasn’t long before Stornoway brought him on board as an apprentice. After he finished the practical training element of the program and passed his practical exam with flying colours, Ian Holl, Stornoway’s Vice President of Processing, rewarded his hard work.

“I told them there would be a reward for the top student,” Holl said, speaking of his regular visits to the CHRD class. “I didn’t tell them what it was, but my reward at that time was a recovery plant operator position. It’s the highest you can go before getting to the control room.”

Holl said that during nine months of apprenticeship, Awashish worked extremely hard to familiarize himself with the Renard processing plant, meet the requirements of the position and fit in with the other workers on the site.

“Solomon put the effort in and developed quite well,” said Holl. “He passed his panel interview and we said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a recovery operator now.’”


Solomon Awashish on site

It didn’t take long for another Cree to follow in Awashish’s footsteps. When one of Holl’s senior recovery operators resigned, Ryan Petawabano was given the opportunity to take over the position and also achieved the recovery certification. He joins Awashish as one of only two diamond mine recovery operators certified in Quebec.

Holl and Awashish both agreed that the path to a mining career and the work itself are anything not easy, but that the hard work pays off.

“I started out as a cleaner in a process plant and I worked my way up – that’s why I share my experience with some of these youngsters,” said Holl. “The training program is 900 hours – you’re putting 900 hours away in your life for the future 40-50 years.

“I know some of those students suffered because I saw them every month,” Holl added. “You have to get through it and know that you’re building a better future for you and your family.”

“My kids and my family were my main motivation,” echoed Awashish. “I wanted to be a role model to my kids and to all the youth. I want people to know they can do anything they put their minds to.”

Awashish thanked Stornoway for the opportunity, the CHRD for its help and his family for their support throughout the process, saying he couldn’t have done it without them. He also offered some advice for Crees who are interested in pursuing a career in the mining industry.

“When you start out you have to get used to long hours, working 14 days on and 14 days off. You have to make a lot of sacrifices – I can’t really go hunting now, I missed Goose Break this year and the most challenging thing for me is leaving my kids at home,” he said. “The schedule is tough but you can still take your holidays and it goes by fast.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot,” he continued. “When I started the program I never thought I would be the first certified recovery operator in Quebec, I thought maybe I’d just be a press operator or something like that. I enjoy the challenges I have in the work place, it’s all new to me. It’s not the same as when I was a technician, it’s a whole different ball game. You get to meet people from all over the world and it’s a lot of fun.”

In conclusion, Awashish urged Eeyou of all ages to seize opportunities when they see them.

“I’d like to encourage the youth and even older people to take the chance,” he said. “If you see a program you’re interested in, take it. It’ll change your life.”


Stornoway hosts open house in Mistissini

Stornoway hosted its annual open house at the Mistissini Youth Centre May 30, inviting people from its host community to learn more about the process and progress of the Renard diamond mine. CHRD was also on hand to inform prospective students on the metal and mineral-processing program.

“We divided the gym into four stations,” said Communications Manager Jodi Hackett. “We had an environmental section and a process station, where people could see the complete process of what happens with the ore, and then a geology station and an HR (human resources) station for potential recruits. CHRD was set up right next to the HR station.”

Hewitt Equipment provided the biggest hit of the open house, driving in from Val-d’Or with their excavator simulator and handing out honourary Caterpillar diplomas for those who mastered the machine.

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On hand for the open house were Stornoway’s VP of Public Affairs Ghislain Poirier, VP of Sustainable Development Martin Boucher and certified recovery operator Solomon Awashish. Community representatives Charlie Awashish (Solomon’s father) and Minnie Coonishish helped organize the day’s activities in Mistissini, while Kenny Loon and Charlotte Matawashish planned a traditional meal of beaver, goose, moose and bear.

“The main focus of the day was the open house, providing people with updates on what’s going on with the mine,” said Hackett. “We also held a very informal Q&A at the end of the day where people could ask any questions they had about the mine or working for the company.”

The Stornoway team then travelled to Waswanipi and Oujé-Bougoumou for recruitment sessions over the following two days, held in Waswanipi’s new sports complex and the Capissisit Lodge respectively.

For more information on Stornoway’s career opportunities and the CHRD mining program, visit and


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