Supporting Strong Community

TSAG: Providing quality technical service and training for First Nations in Alberta

13, Dec, 2016

Within our provincial borders, Alberta is home to three First Nation Treaty areas – Treaty 6, Treaty 7, and Treaty 8. The federal government is responsible for providing programs and services to First Nations that most communities in Canada receive from provincial and municipal levels of government such as roads, housing, water and waste management. 

To save money, the federal government decided to devolve these responsibilities to First Nation or Tribal Council Organizations. First Nation or Tribal Council Organizations were expected to deliver these essential programs and services without adequate funding and technical training or mentorship for staff working in these areas. So like most First Nations communities in Canada, these services were typically contracted out to general contractors and engineering firms, usually at a high cost.

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ASET Member Rick MacKay, C.Tech.
 

Recognizing a  gap in technical service provider capacity, , the Chiefs of Alberta, through a Chiefs Steering Committee, decided to form First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group Inc. (TSAG), a not-for-profit provider of quality technical service and training for First Nations in Alberta. 

“Prior to opening our doors in 1998, First Nations in Alberta were often left to handle responsibilities related to areas such as housing and public works on their own,” recalls Winslow Davis, C.E.T., Manager of TSAG’s Asset Management program. “TSAG aims to eliminate inconsistencies of how services are delivered, and streamline, improve and share best practices.”

In the last year alone, the improvements as a result of TSAG’s work have led to approximately $1.5 million in savings related to the assessment, maintenance, and replacement of the various community assets, and to the optimization of process efficiencies related to administration. This is particularly important when you consider federal funding covers anywhere from 80-100 per cent of the project costs, with shortfalls covered by the individual communities.

“A big part of how we save money for our First Nation communities is by offering the various technical services they need in-house,” says Davis. “We save them the cost of having to go through expensive RFP’s, which can also delay the time it takes to complete necessary projects.”

Being able to handle all of the various aspects of a particular project, such as developing specific programs and processes, is an internal strength. It gives TSAG leverage to perform these projects efficiently.

One example of their work involves Davis’ Asset Management group, Asset Condition Reporting System (ACRS) Technical Advisors, who were tasked with mapping the community infrastructure assets of two new communities in Alberta this past year. As part of the project, ACRS Technical Advisors met with the community managers and leaders, counted and reviewed the various assets (including buildings, public works, schools, health centres, roads, bridges, etc.), and generated the necessary reports focusing on the condition and deficiencies of the assets.

“Some of the tasks we perform in one community, including learned best practices, can be applied to other communities – preventing redundant work and keeping things consistent from one community to the next,” Davis highlights. 

TSAG offers added value beyond its technical services, including understanding the culture of the communities they work with and helping them to grow and sustain themselves through improved technical skills and knowledge.”  

“We employ a number of certified technology professionals because the designation signifies we maintain a high level of professionalism,” notes Davis. “The rapport we’ve built is highly dependent on our ability to not only provide technical services, but also teach the necessary skills to people in the communities.”

It is through its outreach programs such as conferences, workshops and training courses, that TSAG aims to build community capacity and support stronger communities long term. Their vision is to introduce community members, especially youth, to careers in science and engineering.

“We have one former student who came to us through our youth initiatives, and through time and hard work, eventually became an employee here at TSAG,” says Davis. “Training the people in the communities to sustain the work we do is our end goal – to work ourselves out of a job.”

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ASET Member Larson Yellowbird, T.T.

 
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Member Profile

Winslow Davis, C.E.T.

Manager, Asset Management 
First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group Inc. (TSAG)

“Endeavour to persevere.”

Shaking his hand, you get the sense Winslow Davis is a man who’s passionate about his career and culture. Born on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, he graduated in 1988 from Lethbridge College with a diploma in Civil Engineering Technology – Municipal & Water Resources.  As the first Blood Tribe member to graduate the Civil Engineering Technology in two years, Davis received a Recognition Award from the Blood Tribe Chief & Council. 

With 28 years in the Municipal & Water related field, including experience with surveying, design, construction and project management, Davis and his family moved to Spruce Grove from Lethbridge in 2009 when he joined TSAG to perform asset condition reporting inspections on First Nations assets throughout Alberta.

Over the years, he has been recognized with a variety of awards related to his technical excellence and professionalism, including:

  • 2006 Regional Award of Excellence – Indigenous & Northern Affairs Canada, Alberta Region – 2005 Flood team
  • 2013-14 Deputy Minsters Recognition Award for Collaboration & Partnerships – 2013 Southern Alberta Flood Response and Recovery Team (Aboriginal Affairs & Northern Development Canada).

He first joined ASET in 1989 after encouragement from a former employer who was a strong supporter of being part of a professional association. Davis values the recognition his professional designation brings to the industry and colleagues/employers, along with access to career resources such as the Career Centre job board and Salary Survey. His support of ASET continues on in his family, with his son, Reggie, joining as a Student member.

Away from work, you can usually find Davis engaged with his many hobbies, such as woodworking, fishing/hunting, golfing, and spending time with family (four children — two daughters and two sons).
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To view the original article in the online issue of Technology Alberta, please click HERE.