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First Nations trainer setting up future drillers for success

The Frontenac open pit may have limited gold potential, but it’s perfect ground for the type of real-world training that Randy Becker wants to provide for First Nations.
Randy Becker of Nimkie Mining Services wants to convert a Temagami aggregate pit into a training ground for surface drillers.

The Frontenac open pit may have limited gold potential, but it’s perfect ground for the type of real-world training that Randy Becker wants to provide for First Nations.

The CEO of Nimkie Mining Services is negotiating with the Town of Temagami to reopen the aggregate pit this fall, south of the Highway 11 community, and establish it as a training ground to turn out surface drillers.

The property, located on the Lake Temagami Access Road, is largely depleted of aggregate but Becker said there’s enough rock left over to drill, blast and crush for the next five years to deliver gravel to the municipality, the Temagami First Nation, and for local cottagers to use.

“We’re working with the town to transfer their (aggregate) permits to Nimkie Mining,” said Becker, who’s a member of the Temagami First Nation, located on Bear Island at the end of the road. “They’ve been very cooperative so far and it looks like it will go through.”

Becker established Nimkie in 2014 to pursue mining contracts, pit blasting and crushing operations, road work, and central sewer and water projects in First Nation communities.

The Temagami area has a rich mining past with the Sherman open-pit iron mine, which closed in 1990, and the former Copperfields Mine, which closed in 1972, only seven kilometres away.

The pit had been pretty heavily drilled by companies looking for gold, but Becker said its mineral economic prospects are dim.

“I don’t ever really see this property becoming a mine site for gold,” said Becker, “but for making crushed aggregate for the town, for people around the lake and whoever else needs it while we provide the training, for sure.”

Becker, who’s operated heavy equipment since he was a teenager, has been on highway maintenance contracts, water and sewer projects, been underground and in surface mills, and worked on the exploration side of the industry.

“I’ve done every mining job, but pour a gold bar,” said Becker, who’s a certified trainer in surface common core and surface diamond driller.

The land across the road from the pit has been set aside in a land claim dispute.

Becker wants to approach the Temagami First Nation next July about setting up a mine camp, complete with dormitories and kitchen facilities, to provide diamond drilling and surface mining training inside the pit. There would be local jobs created in janitorial, kitchen and camp security positions.

To help him, he’s calling on his connections like BRL Diamond Drilling, based in Temagami, to assist with the training. “They’re very culturally aware of First Nations and a very good fit for training. We’ve done a couple of training programs in the Far North and had good results.”

For the past two years, Becker and his industry partners have delivered such training in other First Nation communities, helping approximately 25 people get jobs in the industry.

At the pit, Becker intends to make the instruction as realistic as possible.

“In our training, we do drill moves. We don’t just pull core and get them to put the core in the box, we get them to tear the whole (drill rig) down, drag it and set it up on the azimuth and work with the geologist. We’re in the blackflies, rain and snow. By the end of the course, the students know whether they can or want to do this.”

Becker intends to keep class sizes small with a maximum of 10, “that way you really get to coach the people into getting what they need.”

The course, which will run seven to eight weeks, introduces trainees to the entire mining cycle.

As a supervisor, Becker often found trainees were often overwhelmed by all the activity in a camp.

“Everything is just coming at them. A lot of them end up walking out saying, this is not for me. If we can give them a better edge as to what’s going on around them, then it makes it better. When we put on our training in situation like this, we would have security and safety guys walking around.”

By offering realistic and more personalized training, Becker said First Nations will gain a better understanding of how the industry works and the opportunity for members to land better jobs.

As part of his work, Becker often serves as a facilitator to help mining companies and First Nations to reach memorandum of understanding agreements.

Decades ago, many First Nation communities didn’t want mines operating on their lands because of the messes left behind, he said. But with regulated mine closure plans today, the environmental responsibility is placed on the mining companies, he said.

Though there’s a First Nation training element to his proposal, “we’ll offer the training to anybody. It’s just to give people a better grasp at what they’re getting into and make them more successful.”