There are a lot of job opportunities for Crees at the EM-1 hydroelectric plant near Nemaska. Abraham Salt, 50, was one of those Crees who took advantage of the chance offered to him at EM-1 when he became a Dish Pit Boss at cafeteria number two. The Nation recently had a chance to hear his story about life at the camp.
Before EM-1, Salt worked for Cree Construction as a surveyor’s helper. He still works for Cree Construction today, but in an indirect capacity. He actually works for ADC, the company that runs the cafeteria in a joint venture with Cree Construction.
His work entails setting up the glasses, plates and anything else that needs to be done to prepare for breakfast and supper for up to 900 people. He also helps the dishwashers in the dish pit when they are over-whelmed by work. His main task is to oversee the five people who work under him, mostly Crees. He makes sure people show up on time and reports them to his superiors if they don’t.
Salt has only been working in his current role at EM-1 for three months, but his stellar attendance and great attitude has allowed him to become a boss in a very short amount of time.
“I worked 62 days straight and they only gave me a five-day holiday. When I got back that’s when they hired me as a team leader,” he said. “I’m a good worker and I like my job very much.”
His experience in dish washing while serving sentences for assault at the Amos Detention Centre and the Bordeaux prison helped him land his current job. “That’s where I learned all my dishwashing experiences.” He was serving a sentence for assault with a beer bottle. That was when he had a drinking problem. Today he is clean and sober and will celebrate his eighth year without a drink on August 14.
“I feel better everyday,” Salt said. “I used to miss work or get in late for work when I was drinking. I never got fired, but I was warned many times. Since I’ve been here though, I never had a warning. The second week of August will mark my two full years here (at EM-1).”
Although he’s not sure whether he wants to move up the EM-1 job ladder, he knows one thing for sure, he’s at EM-1 for as long as they need him. He says that the cafeteria isn’t going anywhere and neither is he.
Salt works a grueling 35 days on, 10 days off. The way he sees it, if he wants more days off, he’ll just have to work more. “If I want to take a vacation then all I need to do is work a longer shift. I could work 60 days [straight] and then take my vacation,” he said.
He works a split shift. In other words he starts his day at 4 am, gets off at 9:15 am, has a few hours to rest, go to the gym, lift weights or go biking and then starts back up at 4 pm and works until 8:30 pm. “I’m not bored here, everything is here for me, it’s like my home. If they give me a trailer I’d stay here for the rest of my life,” he joked.
He added that most of the time he has the gym to himself. He is content with his life right now and wouldn’t change a thing.
He has four kids that he doesn’t get to see much of, but they have adapted well. They call each other on a fairly regular basis. It wouldn’t be easy to see his children regularly anyways because they are too far apart. One is in Whapmagoostui, one is in Senneterre and the other two are in Waskaganish, where he’s originally from. They range in age from 18 to 22.
EM-1 was hit hard by an incident last May 6. Mario Fortin, a 48 year-old worker from Chicoutimi was found stabbed to death near the bar. The incident happened around midnight. A 20-year-old worker at the camp, Emmanuel Blacksmith of Mistissini, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Blacksmith has since been released on bail under strict conditions.
Salt said that it was a day that will remain with him for the rest of his life. “Everybody was happy that day around supper time. I knew why, it was because the bar was open for happy hour.
I got up the next morning at 3:30 and everyone looked very sad. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t find out till later on what had happened,” he said.
The mood had changed overnight at the camp. All of a sudden there was this racial tension brewing and now every time a Cree talks to a non-native, they are asked where they’re from. If Mistissini is the answer, they are given dirty looks.
“I try to make friends with the white people, but since then it’s been even more difficult,” he said.
When talking about his future, Salt thinks that this may his last kick at the proverbial can. “I’m looking at my future now. I don’t think I’ll have a job anywhere else. It’s going to be hard for me.” At 50 years old and without a high school education, Salt knows his future is probably at the camp. “I looked all over for a job in Waskaganish and couldn’t find anything.”