Christalyn Kaiyogana is Kugluktuk’s first female airport maintainer and, like her grandfather Richard Kaiyogana, she’s a heavy equipment operator.

The two of them occasionally “talk shop.” From the 1970s until semi-retirement in 2019, Richard worked on winter roads, the diamond mines, gold mines and oil rigs.

“He’s proud of me,” she said of her grandfather. “He’ll give me advice about some stuff to improve my skills. That helps a lot too.”

Kaiyogana said she doesn’t know of any other certified female airport maintainers in Nunavut.

“When I heard, I couldn’t believe it,” she said of the gender imbalance.

Among her duties is driving the length of the runway at the beginning of her 8 a.m. shift and again before the end of the day at 5 p.m. She does a patrol before and after each flight to ensure the gravel surface remains in good shape.

If the conditions are slippery, Kaiyogana will climb into a grader and run the large blade over the airstrip to create some friction. When a large snowfall occurs, she gets in the plow truck and clears the area.

She also checks to ensure that runway lights aren’t burnt out and watches for nearby wildlife that could endanger a landing plane. Sometimes she has to send birds flying away with a few honks of the pickup truck’s horn.

If something urgent arises that she can’t take care of herself, she issues an electronic notification to Nunavut Airports and the community aerodrome radio station (CARS) observer/communicator, who is in contact with the pilots.

Kaiyogana attained a heavy equipment operator certificate in Kugluktuk in early 2020, and she also has a class three driver’s licence with an air brakes endorsement.

She initially started out as a quarry labourer last July. She moved over to operating heavy equipment with the municipality.

“There’s a lot of challenges relating to the working conditions, like weather and road conditions, but with determination, I work through those challenges. Whenever I complete a task, I ask myself how can I do it better next time to improve my skills,” she said, adding that she’s constantly mindful of vehicle speed and keeps an eye out for pedestrians and motor traffic.

She also performs routine checks of the heavy equipment before operating the vehicles, such as the oil level, tire pressure and makes sure that hoses are connected.

Shawn Fitzgerald, Kugluktuk’s acting senior administrative officer, said Kaiyogana is an example of hard work paying off.

“It can take a person a long way, and it’s taken her far. We need more people like her,” he said. “We don’t see her as a great ‘female’ airport maintainer. She is a great airport maintainer, period!”

Kaiyogana started as a relief airport maintainer in May, after finalizing that certification. In the past, she’s also filled a role as a mill operator at the Hope Bay gold mine and did some construction-related work as a housing maintainer.

“I like being out in the field. I can’t see myself sitting in an office all day,” she said. “Everywhere I’ve worked, it wasn’t hard for me to get along with everybody.”

Although she’s been in several male-dominated occupations, she said she hasn’t encountered barriers due to her gender.

“Everyone’s been supportive and encouraging,” she said. “The crew over at the hamlet are awesome.”

She added that her heavy equipment instructor and friends and family have also boosted her confidence.

“I can’t thank them enough,” she said.

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