Too busy to celebrate

Aboriginal environmental management company marks 10 years

Published on June 27, 2012
Sikumiut founding partner Bevin LeDrew says the company’s strength lies in its aboriginal identity. — Photo by Daniel MacEachern/The Telegram

Environmental consulting company Sikumiut is marking its 10th anniversary in August, but the company might be too busy to celebrate.

Founded in August 2002 by Bevin LeDrew, Ron Webb and Gus Dicker — a fourth partner, Leroy Metcalfe, now the company president, signed on a couple of years later — Sikumiut has offices in Nain, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and St. John’s.

Sikumiut was established when construction started on the Voisey’s Bay nickel project. Work on the Labrador Inuit land claims agreement negotiations and Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve Inuit impact benefits agreement quickly followed, and the firm has done work — including environmental impact assessments and wildlife surveys — for Vale, Nalcor, the Nunatsiavut government and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. In 10 years,  there was only year — 2008 — during which the company didn’t see growth.

The company’s strength, LeDrew told The Telegram, lies in its aboriginal identity; three of the firm’s four partners are Inuit, and it has a high proportion of aboriginal employees.

“We got into this business because I felt strongly that the kind of skills that Inuit have from living on the coast would be outstandingly useful for environmental assessment,” he said. “I’m not talking about ‘Inuit knowledge versus Western knowledge.’ But what I’m talking about is if you’ve got to do a bird survey and you’ve got a couple of guys from Nain, you’ll see a dot in the sky and they’ll tell you that it’s an eider duck that’s three years old and didn’t lay an egg last year. It’s amazing.

“I’m exaggerating,” LeDrew said. “But their ability to see things out there in the country and know what they’re saying — if you can get them documenting that in a survey kind of method, you’ve got excellent field hands. The straight skills for getting out into the field and doing work are great, and that’s what we’re trying to tap into, is that ability and knowledge, and we’ve been pretty good at doing that.”

Sikumiut — the name is an Inuktitut word meaning “people of the ice,” explained LeDrew — is building a new office that will have twice the space it needs, with the idea that it can rent out the unused space until the company grows to need it.

LeDrew jokes that the company’s growth — employment can swell to about 50 employees during its busiest times from a core of 20 — has matched what they predicted in its business plan, but none of them believed the plan at the time.

The next 10 years will see the company preparing even more for its future. Apart from the new office and its space to grow, the company will be thinking about its sucession plans.

“We’ve got a lot of good, young people, and then we’ve got a batch of people that are in their 50s and upwards in age, so we’ve got to tackle that transitional thing,” he said. “The first big transition for our company is I move out of being full-time with the company. Last August, I stepped down as president, and a year from this August I’m going to stop being a full-time employee and basically be on a retainer basis and work on projects. The company needs to go beyond that.”

Before that, though, the company will find time to mark the anniversary — at some point.

“I”d like to say there’s a whole batch of celebrations planned, but we haven’t had time,” he said, laughing. “We’re going to do something in September. Our work tends to peak pretty heavily in the summer, although the nice thing about a lot of the work we do is there’s a winter peak as well. When we get the field season out of the way, we’re going to have a bit of a reception, pause for a while and say thank-you to friends and clients and even some of our competitors.”

Twitter: TelegramDaniel