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Innu woman and single-mother overcomes adversity and realizes her dream of working as a heavy equipment operator
When Pishum Penashue was a young girl growing up in Sheshatshiu, she dreamed of working as a heavy equipment operator.
But self-doubt was an obstacle.
“This is what I always wanted to do, but I just felt like I wasn’t smart enough,” she said.
As it would turn out, she was wrong. She had what it took to realize her dream, and in November of 2019, she began the 22-week training program at the Operating Engineers College in Holyrood.
“It was hard at first, I was a single mother going out there,” she said. “My baby was only 15 months old and I got him into daycare.
“The hardest part was leaving him there every morning.”
She finished her program at the end of September in 2020; it would have been May if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Three months later, she was working as a heavy equipment operator in Vale’s Voisey’s Bay mine in Labrador, driving a Caterpillar 777, a 100-tonne, 870 horsepower, five-metre high haul truck used in open-pit mining. She is the only woman on her 11-person crew and is the youngest Innu woman to operate the big truck at the mine.
Two of her cousins, Doreen Malleck and Leah Rich, also from Sheshatshiu, work at the mine as well. Penashue says they were her idols and she feels proud as she drives past them at the site.
“I hope my life story will inspire and help other women to know that they are good enough and smart enough to do it, (to) go after their dreams." — Pishum Penashue
Her son, Owen, is now almost three and Penashue has her own place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, something she couldn’t have imagined just a couple of years ago.
In a year where she has achieved so many of her goals, she was excited to share her thoughts with The Telegram.
“I hope my life story will inspire and help other women to know that they are good enough and smart enough to do it, (to) go after their dreams and know there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
“No matter what obstacles, they can overcome anything if they put their mind to it.”
1. What is your full name?
2. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Que., but I’ve been living in Sheshatshiu my whole life. My parents are from here. (I was born in) August of 1994.
3. Where do you live today?
I’m living in Goose Bay now.
4. What’s your favourite place in the world?
Being home with my son, just being at home relaxing with my baby.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
I like to watch cooking shows a lot, (so) it’s something to do at home, too, to follow cooking shows (and) friends and family.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I think they would be surprised that I can operate a 777 (truck) and heavy equipment. People never thought that I’d be able to. They’d be really supportive and everything, but I guess because I’m a woman, (they might have thought) I’d be afraid to go out and do this. As of right now, there are 11 of us in one crew and I’m the only woman on that crew. It makes me feel proud.
7. What’s been your favourite year and why?
I’d say 2020. I got to go out and do the things that I never thought I could, especially with a baby. Getting a new job, a new place... some of the greatest moments of my life.
8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Getting the help I needed. A few years back, I used to drink a lot. But taking that step to get help and go out for treatment changed me a lot. It was before I got pregnant with my son. Just turning that mindset around really helped me get back on my feet.
9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
Becoming a mother. It gives me a purpose to work for the things I have now, especially for my son, too. I want him to look at me and say, “she's done this all for me.”
10. What’s your greatest indulgence?
Drinking coffee and probably working out at the gym. I push myself a little too much sometimes. (For) two years now, I’ve been working out and watching what I am eating, but I push myself too much sometimes and I get overtired.
11. What is your favourite television show?
I like to watch (the legal drama) “Suits.”
12. How do you like to relax?
I like to lie on the couch and watch movies and eat take-out.
13. What are you reading or watching right now?
I’m reading the Trent Shelton (former NFL player) book, “The Greatest You.” It’s a really good book. It’s about his life story and about how he turned his life around too. It reminded me of me.
14. What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is relapsing. Just losing everything and all the hard work I put in. It’s really stressful.
15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
I like to wear sports clothes a lot. Just leggings (and) work-out clothes is comfy for me.
16. What are you listening to right now?
I like to listen to the new music that comes out. I just download it on my playlist and play it all the time. I’ll listen to anything.
17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
My father really likes to push people to progress in their lives. I feel like I got a lot of that from him. I know how proud he is of people when they have new jobs and they get training. And I feel the same way. He’s really supportive and I know he’s really proud of me. He tells me that every day.
18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
My brother, my best friend Petshish and my boyfriend Austin.
19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?
Cleaning. I really like to clean. (As for worst quality) sometimes when I hear negative comments about me, it really wears me down. I hold onto it for so long, (but) I have a lot of people that support me, too, and tell me things will get better and to just ignore the comments.
20. What’s your biggest regret?
My biggest regret is hurting my parents a lot when I used to drink a lot. I know it was hard for them to see me like that.