Des Dumais and his wife, Toni Dumais, started the business. While a grand opening for the business was held in August, it has been in development since 2018 when the couple approached Kahkewistahaw First Nation, which is Des’ First Nation. They came forward with a vision and a business plan to connect communities to economic development, and meet non-Indigenous Canada halfway with a business that builds capacity and communities at the same time.
“We want to take that step and meet industry and government halfway in terms of reconciliation,” Des said. “It’s important for First Nations communities to know that it takes both sides to really make some things happen on the economic side.”
The Dumais’ found their perspective on economic reconciliation was shared by Kahkewistahaw Chief Evan Taypotat, which led to a business relationship with Kahkewistahaw First Nation becoming a 50 per cent shareholder in the business.
“It's to create opportunities and training and mentorship and also revenue for our community,” Des said.
Both Des and Toni spent 22 years working as construction project managers in the energy industry in northeast British Columbia, where Toni’s First Nation, Prophet River First Nation, is located. Their experience includes managing and delivering projects (including pipefitting projects of up to 40,000 inches), managing fabrication and installation facilities, and supervising crews of more than 100 tradespeople and other workers. Des conceived the idea for the business and began executing with Toni, relying on their experience as an owner/contractor duo.
“I've spent my entire career working in pipeline facility construction and so we really wanted to leverage those skills and build out a program,” Des said, crediting his wife for KIHEW FabCo’s business plan. “It was a natural fit to open this business. There is a lot of industrial construction in Saskatchewan and a lot of projects that fit the kind of projects I am used to doing.”
While KIHEW FabCo is new, the team that Des and Toni have assembled has significant experience. Des is KIHEW FabCo’s CEO while Toni is its COO. They have hired similarly skilled and experienced staff members to ensure quality and cost-effectiveness for those relying on the business to design, fabricate and install all varieties and volumes of facilities and plants.
Toni worked her way up the ranks, working hard and smart to remain competitive in a male-dominated industry, progressing from labourer, to pipefitter, quality control, dispatch, cost control, and into business management. She is currently completing her Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA).
Des’ path took a more technical route over the past nine years as he moved into fabrication powered by digital expertise in 3D modelling and laser scanning using CADWorx and AutoCAD 3D Plant Design software.
The scanning that can be done by KIHEW FabCo provides engineers valuable data that can be used for their front-end engineering designs for industrial construction projects. The KIHEW team can scan a project and perform digital twinning of the site for fabrication. The 3D/digitization services are invaluable to facilities constituents in terms of product extraction and transmission for the design and fabrication of facilities. Working from a Piping and Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID), Des can develop a 3D Model, delivering the pile layout diagrams, isometrics (ISO’s) with materials list, and the overview layout for assembly.
“I love that because we get to get involved in the project early on. We're going out and we're finding all the problems before we even do any fabrication,” Des said.
“So, it's given us a little bit of a competitive edge in terms of the delivery and scheduling and there’s no rework. We're connecting the engineering level to the field level. We process all of our drawing packages and fabricate all the piping and structural steel ourselves.
So, we are doing a cradle-to-grave type of project.”
The use of technology extends beyond 3D modelling to the 55,000 square feet of fabrication space at their location in Melville. It is outfitted with fully robotic fabrication equipment, increasing speed and accuracy when fabricating.
“We invested in a lot in robotic automation. We’re very process driven. It's fully digitized and highly roboticized,” Des said.
KIHEW FabCo’s fabrication space is strategically located in Melville. Being in a community that is on CN’s main rail line and at the crossroads of Highways 10, 15 and 47 supports KIHEW FabCo’s ability to distribute.
“Things can be made, built and assembled in the KIHEW fabrication shop and shipped all over North America from here. They can even be shipped globally. Major industries are acquiring pieces from all over the world, so there’s no reason we can’t play the same way,” Des said.
Locating the business in Melville also fits their vision for economic reconciliation. Numerous First Nations communities, including Kahkewistahaw, Cowessess, Ochapowace, Peepeekisis, Little Black Bear and Star Blanket Cree Nation are located in the vicinity of Melville. Des points out that offering training close to First Nation communities allows people living in those communities to remain close to family while expanding their career options.
Providing training and job opportunities is important to KIHEW FabCo. Des recalls how hard he worked to develop his skills and experience, teaching himself AutoCAD and making the most of opportunities to learn on the job. While this approach worked for him, he wants to create a path for others that leads to registered apprenticeships.
“We want to get people into trades. We wanted to make it easier because it's not easy doing that,” said Des.
“It is really important to the leadership of both KIHEW FabCo and Kahkewistahaw First Nation that we develop a sophisticated workflow and service to our clients,” said Toni. “That would facilitate a lot of our bottom line needs and cost savings while also giving us the opportunity to establish and develop our training program.”
Employment opportunities at KIHEW FabCo will be open to anyone in the area. Students will have a chance to get their foot in the door through summer jobs as well as after high school.
“We're going to need in-hand welding, pipe welding, pipe fitting, 3D laser scanning, 3D modeling, robot technicians, beamline operators, project management and administration.”
Des has high expectations for what this business can accomplish and takes inspiration from Chief Kā-kīwistāhāw, who signed Treaty 4 in September 1874. KIHEW FabCo was named in tribute to Chief Kā-kīwistāhāw, which translated from Cree to English means “He Who Flies Around”. KIHEW is the Cree word for eagle. Chief Kā-kīwistāhāw was an example of conducting oneself according to one’s principles. Having a strong sense of community and responsibility for creating opportunity is inherent in KIHEW FabCo.
“We really wanted this to be a business truly owned and operated by our Indigenous community,” Des said. “We want KIHEW FabCo to work all over the province and we want to have a big impact.”