Connecting with Aboriginal Communities through the Gaslink Project

Lynsey Kitching

Karen Andrews is the Aboriginal Liaison for the TransCanada Pipeline.
“I believe that everything that gets presented in our lifetime is to further us in our walk in life,” says Karen Andrews, who works as an Aboriginal Liaison for the TransCanada Pipeline. 
Her focal project at the moment is the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline project. The project is putting in a pipeline from the Dawson Creek area right through to Kitimat for gas.  It will run relatively close to Tumbler Ridge. “The pipeline is for the product that shell will be producing out of the Dawson area. It will be shipped to Kitimat where they will be building a liquid natural gas plant,” explains Andrews.
“I worked for Aboriginal organizations and non-profits for most of my life and a few years ago I decided I really wanted to start working with oil and gas so I could work from the inside to help aboriginal organizations benefit from the industry that was taking place in their backyard,” she says. Andrews purposely set out a few years ago to work for oil and gas, so she quit her job as a health manager for Fort Nelson First Nations, and went to Kamloops university, finished up her business management program and started looking for oil and gas jobs. “I knew I wanted to have an aboriginal contact and was lucky to get a job with TransCanada,” remembers Andrews.
Being an Aboriginal herself, Andrews has a strong connection to First Nations communities. She says, “I am Metis, born in Yellowknife. I was raised in a residential school and a number of communities around this great country of ours.”
As Aboriginal Liaison for Trans Canada, Andrews gets the opportunity to create open lines of communication between TransCanada and the communities affected by the GasLink project. “I’m the ground person. I go in having made contact with the communities to build a relationship. We explain the project and answer questions. I get to attend their functions, pow-wows, gatherings, and annual general meetings to build relationship. If they have questions they have that trust and knowledge of who I am. I make sure I get answers back to them.”
She continues to explain why this job is a great fit for her. “I love my job. The best part is getting into the communities, sitting down and having tea with the elders and meeting the chief, council and community members and seeing how their lives are going, what is needed, lending a listening ear, and making sure I get information back to them about how the company can be of assistance.” 
Having these lines of communication has great benefits for not only Trans Canada, but also career opportunities for community members through training facilities. “We create training opportunities and work with training facilities that are in the area, such as colleges,” she continues, “The Pipeline is a short opportunity, about three years, so if you’re looking to be a pipe liner, you’re looking at a lot of travelling and there’s lots of opportunities in the world to do that. We work with other industries and government to look at what the gaps are.”
With training come opportunities not only in the oil and gas industry, but also in other resource based industries. Andrews says, “For example, if we need more equipment operators we’ll help and sponsor those training opportunities. Then when people are finished, they can work in other industries, not just for us. We have a global view about how we do training and education. We look at what the benefits could be. People don’t want to do all the training and then have no jobs at the end of it.”
Andrews’ work is being well received within the Aboriginal communities effected by the pipeline. She says, “The response for the project as been good once we tell them that we’re looking to engage with them and help with the community. TransCanada’s goal is really to leave communities better off then when they came in. They want to increase opportunities for Aboriginal people and communities. We do what we can.”