The Quebec-based telecommunications company Telebec has embarked on a new relationship with the people of Eeyou Istchee. The recent hiring of David Coonishish in Chisasibi and Luke Mianscum in Mistissini for Telebec’s business and residential installation and repair team represents a change in the industry’s practices when dealing with the north.

In the past, non-natives were the only ones to service northern Quebec. But Telebec is leading the way in changing that reality. The reason there were no Cree working for Telebec in the past is not for lack of trying, according to Norm Kelly, the Director General for First Nations Business Relations. “For whatever reason there weren’t any applications from the Cree,” says Kelly, who has been in the industry for 30 years. That’s when Telebec created Kelly’s position a couple years ago to facilitate the hiring of Crees.

These new employees will “give those two communities better and faster service. Now we have technicians within the community who can service the communities with a minimal waiting period,” stated Kelly.

David Coonishish, 28, began training last September and became a full time employee in January. He says that one of the most difficult adjustments is getting the people, especially the elders, to trust him.

A typical day includes trouble shooting, installing lines, data entry and various other tasks, says Coonishish.

The job is difficult at times due to the amount of hours spent traveling, along with being away from his wife and two kids for prolonged periods of time. “I had to adjust my family life because I had to be out of town so many times. I sometimes have to travel to Waskaganish, Eastmain, or Wemindji. It was hard on the kids in the beginning.”

The drive from Chisasibi to Waskaganish is between six and seven hours.

Despite the occasional hardship, Coonishish enjoys it immensely and likes the prestige that comes with working for Telebec.

His hiring has caught people in Eeyou Istchee off guard. They are not used to seeing one of their own drive a Telebec truck. Coonishish’s expertise and sense of humour has helped to put them at ease. “One time a guy stopped me on the road and asked me what I was doing with that truck. I told him that the white guy is tied up in the back,” Coonishish joked.

Coonishish was chosen for the job in part because he had extensive previous experience working as a computer technician in the community.

“I like the job very much, it’s very interesting,” Coonishish said. “Everyday is different, whether it be the problem I have to fix or the place I have to work. The people of Chisasibi are very happy to see that I’m Cree and working for Telebec. In the past, there were language barriers when dealing with some elders who didn’t speak English or French. I can communicate with them in Cree and they appreciate that.”

Luke Mianscum loves being outside and working within his community. He worked for 10 years with Misti cable in Mistissini and is used to the more physical aspects of his new job like climbing a telephone pole in freezing temperatures.

“I enjoy working outside and I like working for Telebec because they have great benefits,” he said.