Natives and trucking: A perfect fit?

TORONTO, (March 29, 2004) — Chief Harry Cook of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band in Northern Saskatchewan estimates that unemployment among aboriginals hovers around 65 per cent.

Down in Winnipeg sits Allan Robison, president and CEO of Reimer Express Lines, who says the national driver shortage is bad and getting worse. What gives? Why not put underemployed First Nations people into drivers’ seats?

It’s a natural fit, says Cook. Almost 25 years ago, Cook’s band formed Northern Resource Trucking in partnership with Trimac Transportation Services of Calgary. NRT has about 60 employees, most of whom are Native, and hauls in around $18 million a year in revenue. Furthermore, Native drivers can operate point-to-point in United States.

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act classifies aboriginals born in Canada as American Indians, which exempts them from restrictions that keep most non-American citizens who drop loads in the United States looking for backhauls.

One reason aboriginals are an untapped labour source is geography. Many are reluctant to leave Northern Canada, Robison says, even for a stable, year-round job that pays well.

Marvin Tiller thinks if any business can entice young Natives, it’s trucking. Tiller is president and CEO of Canadian Shield Enterprises, and he specializes in bringing Native groups together with investors.

“Trucking offers independence, travel,” he says. “If you like the country, I could see this as a great opportunity.” It’s the sort of message not enough carriers convey.

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